‘Prison Baby’ Author Deborah Jiang-Stein Says Sometimes Girls Should Throw a Punch
Prison Baby author Deborah Jiang-Stein was born in prison addicted to heroin just like her mother was. Deborah spent her first year of life there and eventually went into the foster care system and got adopted. Today, she is a national speaker and founder of The unPrison Project, a nonprofit working to empower and inspire incarcerated women and girls with life skills and mentoring to plan and prepare for successful lives after prison. She’s the author of the brand new memoir, Prison Baby (Beacon Press.)
“When one of my daughters was in third grade or so, I got a call from her school’s aftercare program that alarmed me. She’d punched a boy in the face and split his lip open. When I picked her up, the teacher pulled my daughter and me aside and reminded us about the no hitting rule. The aftercare worker didn’t know the reason for the incident. So at the time I just agreed, and repeated back the words, “No hitting.”
As she and I walked out of the building, she cried, hugged my waist and said, “You always told me that if my body was threatened, I should fight back.” I didn’t remember that I’d said that, but it sounds like me.
Right then I knew there was another story behind the story. As it turns out, two of her classmates, both boys, had pinned her down and had teased her about crushing on another boy. All in fun, and kids play around like this. But I’ve raised my two daughters as fierce, gentle warriors. I’m raising them to hold love and kindness in the highest esteem and also to stand up for what they believe. And to physically defend themselves if they are physically attacked. It’s survival—how simple is that?
If she’d been a boy, would I’ve been called into school? We don’t expect girls to scrap around in a fight. We don’t expect them to compete with boys either.
A few years earlier in a school parent conference, her homeroom teacher, a socially-conscious instructor who we adored, made me a proud mother when she said: “Your daughter’s a hard worker and a delight in class. “
“But,” the teacher went on, ”whenever we lineup in the hall for transition time, she fights her way to the front of the line.”
I remembered my school days when the boys would rumble around in the hall and the girls lined up nicely waiting for instructions from the teacher. I was a rumbler, too.
I asked the teacher if any other girls did this, or just my daughter. Turns out, just her, along with most of the boys.
“Are you speaking to the boys’ parents about their scrapping around too?” I asked the woman.
We both sat in a silent teaching moment. “No,” she said. “Good point. I haven’t talked to the boys’ parents about their sons ruckus in line.”
Social expectations carve deep into our parenting and teaching. I’m raising my girls to show up as gentle and kind and fierce human beings, all in the same bundle. From generation to generation, I learned this from my progressive parents, and I’m sure also from my incarcerated birth mother with whom I spent one year in prison where I was born. But it was a year where I’m sure women surrounded me with love and strength, wisdom and kindness.”
Read the rest of her story in Prison Baby.Add a Comment