Reading this story about the life of Donna Hylton, forces one to suspend disbelief. The horrific life that she experienced from the first moment of her birth, defies reality. Raised for the first seven years by a mother who was not emotionally stable, she learned to have out of body experiences to survive. Then, at age seven, she was basically sold by her mother, and she was adopted by a couple from America. She was taken from Jamaica to the United States by strangers who promised her Disney and gave her a nightmare life instead. Exceptionally intelligent, she was also extraordinarily naive. She received a scholarship to a prestigious private school but never attended because over and over, she was abused physically and sexually and taken advantage of by people who had no morals, no standards of ethics and no right to be on the street, free. Yet she always found them, or they found her. She had no one to trust. Every authority figure she encountered, from law enforcement officers to ministers, who should have been her friend and moral compass, took advantage of her. Rape became common stance for her.
When she was only 14, Donna ran away with a man 10 years her senior who promised to help her to get away from her abusive adoptive father. However, Alvin turned out to be just as abusive as Roy had been. After bearing his child, while still a child herself, her life took on a different meaning. She was filled with love for Adrienne and wanted only to provide for her and prevent her from having the same kind of life that she had experienced. She wanted to protect her. However, she was already on a downward trajectory and the descent could not be stopped.
Donna got involved with the wrong people and she naively agreed to help them. Soon, she was in over her head. They threatened to harm Adrienne if she did not cooperate. Then the final blow was struck. She was implicated in a murder. Although she proclaimed her innocence, and there was no evidence of her having been present at the time, she was convicted as an accessory. Her sentence was 27 long years. Once again, she had failed to make the right decision. Over and over, throughout her life, Donna always blames herself and feels guilty for the situations in which she has been involved, in which she has been totally manipulated because she is not street smart.
Her life in prison is fraught with danger and abuse, as well. In some cases, punishment is doled out so severely, it seems inhuman. Hopefully, her revelations and descriptions about the disgraceful things she experienced in prison and the abusive prison guards will bring about an improvement to these dreadful conditions, but it is bound to be a painfully slow process.
While she is incarcerated, Donna educates herself and helps fellow inmates to do so as well. Early on, Pell grants are available to prisoners and she is able to take advantage of the program. She actually attains advanced degrees while serving her sentence. With the help of a nun that takes her under her wing, a woman she begins to think of as her mother, as someone who finally cares for her and doesn’t hurt her, Donna becomes interested in women’s issues. She soon devotes her life to prison reform and to helping women who are incarcerated.
Reading this story will make one wonder how anyone could have survived what Donna went through and come out whole. As a youngster in Jamaica, she believed she could fly out of her body to avoid the abuse and pain that was inflicted upon her and in America, she did so for awhile as well. Perhaps, she, like her mother had a mental illness which went untreated, but which also helped her to survive.
The prison system fails many of the women sent there. They are often jailed for crimes committed while defending themselves from abuse. Their sentences often seemed excessive. There was little compassion shown for their plight. Donna mentions the names of many famous prisoners with whom she shared her life in prison. However, few can come out and actually have a life after being in prison so long. Life in prison becomes more protected and safe for many of them than life on the outside. There is no support system that is strong enough to help them overcome the challenges they will face. Still, she devotes herself to helping them and has achieved great success, especially now, on the outside. When the reader realizes what the little piece of light represents, they will realize what Donna has had to overcome to survive and be in awe of her accomplishments.