Featuring Rhonda Turpin

The tide is changing somewhat, but real reform is a long way off.
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About Rhonda

Rhonda Turpin calls Cleveland, Ohio, home. She is a grant writer by trade, with more than thirty years of experience. She started her own publishing company, World Books Etc. She is currently in prison at FMC—Satellite Camp and has been incarcerated since October 18, 2004. She was once housed with Martha Stewart, who mentored her in writing her first book. Turpin’s background is in assisting women and men with barriers to success. Her blog depicts the facts of daily prison life. She lives by the quote, “You are only as imprisoned as your thoughts and dreams.”

Rhonda Turpin has been incarcerated for a white-collar, nonviolent offense for the last thirteen years, and is currently serving at Danbury Federal Prison Camp. We had the opportunity to interview her about her essay "Prison Parenting" which appears in All the Women in My Family Sing and this is what we learned...

What inspired you to write your essay for this book?

When I read about the project in PW I wrote to the publisher and wanted to be certain that women in prison were represented in the book. The incarceration rate for women is increasing 300% more than for men. Editor Deborah Santana wrote me, I submitted my essay and the rest is history.

What is one of the most memorable challenges you have experienced as a woman of color in the twenty-first century? ]

Inequality. Racial inequality. By profession I am a grant writer, and I have a master’s degree in Urban Studies. When I was working it was difficult for me to get a contract. I had to work a lot harder than anyone else. It is the same in prison. [Women of color] have to work harder. We have to be better. Smarter. We have to take more — pull ourselves in and bite our tongues. I have been here for thirteen years and five months. I go home this year (I just signed my paperwork). I teach finance classes here and there are still people who think I shouldn’t be teaching — it’s the same as when I was trying to do work as a grant writer. 

Give an example of women’s roles in today’s social justice movement. 

Advocating for equality in pay. We should be doing that. We get paid less for the exact same jobs as men. We have made some progress but there is a long way to go. We should be advocating for equal pay. 

What have been your experiences in leadership as a woman of color?

Right now, today, I am a member of Just Leadership USA. We are working to lower the prison population .Our goal is to lower it 50% by 2030. I also work for the Women’s Council, which helps women in prison by making sure they receive books and magazines. We take books and magazines for granted out in the world but in here they are very important. We work to make sure prisons have updated and current reading material.

What do hope readers will take away from reading this book?

I hope people will take away that prison has a domino effect on children. When non-violent white collar mothers like me are incarcerated it effects the whole family. It doesn’t matter if it is 30 days or 13 years, for you to be taken away, taken out of the home…it breaks up families. I hope people start paying attention to non-violent inmates. 90% of us are mothers and grandmothers. The struggle is real.