TULSA — Before they start honing their writing skills, incarcerated women enrolled in Liz Kollaja’s therapeutic poetry class are asked to take an Adverse Childhood Experience quiz.
The brief survey is designed to gauge how rough a person’s childhood was. Nationally, 45% of children have experienced at least one of 10 ACEs, ranging from having a parent incarcerated to being physically and emotionally abused. Those with a score of three or higher face an elevated risk of psychological and medical problems.
The average ACE score among incarcerated Oklahoma women is 5.75, according to Kollaja, who manages curriculum for the OU-TU School of Community Medicine and volunteers with Poetic Justice. Nearly 400 women incarcerated at the Mabel Bassett and Eddie Warrior Correctional Centers have taken the assessment over the past three years.
“Looking at these numbers, it’s heartbreaking to see what they have gone through and what they have experienced,” Kollaja said. “It makes you realize that where they ended up, you can’t really blame them, because it’s often a normal reaction to that level of trauma to live the life they’ve lived.”
A panel of researchers, volunteers and community leaders discussed the link between traumatic childhood experiences and incarceration at the She Brews Coffee House in Tulsa on Saturday night. State Rep. Monroe Nichols, D-Tulsa, moderated the event, which was organized by the Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform.
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