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Taking a hard look at real women
Patricia Stiegler’s first book looks at life for women behind bars
Patricia Stiegler’s new book, “Real Women Don’t Cry,” chronicles the life of inmates in Oregon’s women’s prisons.
November 26, 2012
When Prineville resident Patricia Stiegler first began working at a women’s prison, she encountered a world she had never imagined existed.
“I kept thinking, this needs to be a story,” she recalls. “This needs to be told.”
Now, seven years removed from her prison job, she is telling that story with her newly-published book “Real Women Don’t Cry.”
Having worked for a decade at the Oregon Women’s Correctional Center and other prison facilities in the state, Stiegler set out to provide readers an inside glimpse of prison life.
“I hear people say, ‘Gosh, they have it easy in prison because you got TV, you got three meals a day,’” she said. “But, when you go into a prison, I don’t think you can even begin to grasp how terrible it is.”
As an example, she described a dorm that housed 28 twin bunk beds. Fourteen bunks set three feet apart on opposite ends of the room, leaving no room to climb to the top bunk without standing on the bottom one.
“So the only space that belongs to an individual woman was the three feet between two bunks on one side, and the top of her bed,” Stiegler explained. “The mattresses on the bunks are about two inches thick. They are covered in old plastic that is cracked and broken. You get one pillow that is covered in plastic that is cracked and broken. You get one scratchy blanket to put on you at night. The lights are always on in the dorm — there is not place you can go for any kind of privacy. It’s rough.”
Stiegler concedes that a prison sentence is intended to punish a person for the crimes they committed, but she does not believe the conditions the women endured should be part of that punishment.
“The idea is that when a person goes to prison, the only way they are being punished is the fact that they are withdrawn from their lives,” she said. “They are not supposed to be punished in prison. They are supposed to be rehabilitated.”
Stiegler entered the prison world late in her life, taking the job in her early 60s. She said that she endured a lot of chaos in her life because she grew up with an alcoholic father.
“If you know anything about addiction, you know what it does,” she remarked.
Because of that background, Stiegler continued to wonder throughout her adult life what addiction was all about, and after raising a family, she returned to college in pursuit of a new career.
“I went back and got a degree in human services with an emphasis on addictions, and became an addiction counselor,” she said.
Stiegler retired from her prison job at the age of 72 and soon after began the book-writing process. She had never published a book before, but had taught school in the past and wrote poetry as a hobby.
“Yeah, I guess I always thought I’d like to write something,” she said.
As she dove into the task, Stiegler found out her new pursuit had its own unique challenges.
“It’s the hardest job in the world to write a book,” she said, “especially for me, because I had so much emotion. I can’t even tell you what a horrendously emotional job it was.”
About seven years and a dozen manuscripts later, Stiegler’s book finally hit local stores in October. So far, she has encountered positive results. Several stores now carry the book.
“It was a fabulous experience,” she said of the prison experience and subsequent book. “I am really, really grateful that I got to do it. It opened my mind up.”
“Real Women Don’t Cry” can be purchased in Prineville at Debbie Sue’s Café, Crook County Library, Riches and Rags, and Clinic Pharmacy.