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Donna Hylton is an activist, speaker, re-entry specialist, and author. She brings an authentic voice to her work based on her traumatic childhood experiences and incarceration at the age of 20. Now, she is one of the most prolific advocates for women’s rights and prison reform.

In this episode of Motivational Mondays, Donna talks about the connection between unresolved trauma, incarceration, and the difficulty most women face re-entering society.

Why Donna Wrote A Little Piece of Light

As you’re able to heal from the trauma you’ve experienced, there’s still a piece of you that’s vulnerable. Donna wasn’t ready to be vulnerable with the world and put her story on paper until she spoke at an event with Piper Kerman.

After they shared their stories, a woman stood up and said, “Thank you. Because this is the first time that I’m sharing that I was hurt, that someone hurt me. I’ve never told anyone. I didn’t think I could because I felt so alone.” It was at that moment that Donna recognized the power that words have.

Donna’s fight for justice for incarcerated women

Donna obtained her associates, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees while in prison. After re-entering society, she created a platform that allowed her voice to be heard. She’s fighting for incarcerated women who were arrested unjustly. Instead of responding to the issues that were harming them, they were arrested. 

Donna emphasizes, “We need to help each other. We need to look beyond color. We need to look beyond ethnicity. We need to look beyond language and sexual preferences. We need to look beyond that and see humanity, see the human being, the whole person. We have to understand what’s going on in people’s lives.”

Re-entry into society after incarceration

Society was designed so that former convicts are destined to return to prison. They struggle to get a job because they’re forced to notate that they’d been incarcerated on job applications. Then, they have no place to live because they couldn’t afford rent. How can society expect a better outcome if there’s nothing in place to help them transition back into it? 

Donna’s mission is to make people understand that everyone is equally important. Re-entry isn’t a cookie-cutter process. Everyone responds differently and that’s why Donna works tirelessly in her criminal justice endeavors. Learn more in this episode!

Listen to this episode to learn about...

  • [0:48] Why Donna wrote her memoir, A Little Piece of Light
  • [3:34] The connection between unresolved trauma and incarceration
  • [6:07] How society plays a role in preventing women from incarceration 
  • [8:48] Donna’s fight for justice for incarcerated women
  • [11:38] Re-entry into society after incarceration
  • [17:36] How you can heal from trauma
  • [18:36] The initiatives Donna’s organization is working on

Listen to the bonus episode to learn about the importance of supporting prison reform and the action steps to get involved.