Simpson senior publishes book while studying abroad

Simpson senior publishes book while studying abroad

by Rachel GullStaff Writer

Many students study abroad and find themselves doing things that will change their lives forever. For senior Danny Heggen, this was definitely the case. While studying two terms at Curtin University in Perth, Australia, Heggen wrote and published a book.

This book, “Voices on the Inside: The Women of Boronia,” deals with the lives and experiences of the inmates at the Boronia Pre-release Centre for Women. The Centre is a select facility for women who have recently been released from a maximum security term and need to slowly ease back into society.

Heggen’s book is directed at both the prison system and at women entering the Centre, letting them know that they are not the only ones in their positions.

Heggen’s book begins with a history of the Boronia Pre-release Centre, a foreword by Minister of Justice in Western Australia and Heggen’s personal reflection. The highlights, however, are the women’s stories.

Heggen’s book chronicles each woman’s life before prison and how each person got into their situation.

“You often just see their crime, not the whole situation,” Heggen said. “I wanted to give depth to these women.”

The book goes on to tell about each woman’s experiences with the Centre, and Heggen was actually able to speak with two women who had been released and one who was recommitted. In the end, Heggen’s book chronicled the lives of 12 women and included 10 stories, although one was cut by the administration.

Dr. Lora Friedrich, chair of the Department of Social Science, has read excerpts from Heggen’s book and feels that the stories are pertinent to women all over.

“In the stories that I read, women were impacted by drug abuse and sexual violence,” Friedrich said. “These are universal themes, particularly for women who are incarcerated.”

Heggen conducted his first interview in February 2007. Not much later, he held an open event to explain the purpose of his book and to invite interested women to be interviewed. This event was unexpectedly successful. Heggen expected three or four volunteers. Instead, 13 came. Heggen then spent the next several months conducting individual interviews with each woman.

In order to encourage the women to talk about themselves, Heggen knew that he had to open up as well. Heggen told them about losing his best friend to brain cancer at 18 and gave the women license to open up about the really difficult things that had happened in their lives. He realized that the women’s stories were very important and needed to be public.

“Nobody will know about these women unless someone informs them,” Heggen said.

Heggen’s book took sixand a half months to write, beginning in the middle of March and finishing in September 2007. The book was released in Australia on November 22. Currently, some copies are being shipped to the U.S., and in April, Heggen will host a book release in Des Moines.

Heggen initially was recommended to this project by Curtin’s Professor Ian Fairnie. Fairnie runs a program called “Curtin Volunteers!,” which requires students to complete 40 hours of volunteer work each semester.

Heggen was assigned the project of writing the book and was initially a little hesitant about it. However, the Centre itself relieved some of his fears.

“Once you got past the gates, it didn’t look like a prison at all,” Heggen said.

The facility is organized like a small neighborhood and contains a library, doctor’s office, café, supermarket, and religious center. Women live in groups of six in condominium-style housing.

The Centre held 54 women while Heggen was there. Each woman must work or take classes during her time in the Centre, and most do both. This system seems to work well. The facility has an 85 percent success rate as opposed to 55-60 percent in maximum-security facilities.

Boronia’s Pre-Release Centre has a unique childcare situation. Mothers are able to have children 12 and under living with them. Children from age 12 to age 13 can stay on weekends, and children 14 and older can come for afternoon visits.

Simpson senior Scott Brinkmeyer volunteered with in the Centre’s nursery and also roomed with Heggen.

“It was interesting to get to know the children of these women and then to go home and get to hear the women’s stories,” Brinkmeyer said.

At present, Heggen is working with Iowa homeless youth to start a similar project. Heggen’s goal is for the project to go hand in hand with Reggie’s Sleepout to shed light on people directly benefiting from those sorts of things.”

After his graduation this spring, Heggen’s plans are still uncertain. He definitely wants to keep writing, because he finds it very fulfilling. Heggen will probably stay around Des Moines or perhaps travel to Mexico for a while, but he’s not making any decisions yet.

“I think that what Danny did is very important, and not only because it was a great opportunity for him,” Brinkmeyer said. “Danny’s work is bringing to light different options for prison systems, and hopefully it can be helpful in some capacity.”