Dawn Eden is the author of My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints. As part of her outreach to those suffering from the wounds of past sexual abuse, she has been taking her message to recovering prostitutes and others who have found themselves in prison in Philadelphia and elsewhere. The feedback is mixed, as you might imagine, but Eden believes no woman or man should be forgotten. She talks with National Review Online about what she has seen and is learning.
LOPEZ: How did you wind up speaking in a prison in the first place?
EDEN: The Malvern Retreat House, which is outside Philadelphia, wanted to hire me to speak about my first book, The Thrill of the Chaste, at a mother-daughter event they were planning. But in the wake of the publication of my second book, My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints, I wanted to speak only on healing from childhood sexual abuse. At the same time, I greatly desired to begin sharing the message of My Peace I Give You with inmates.
So I told the retreat house that if they could get me in to speak at a local prison, I would speak at their mother-daughter event at no charge. They immediately connected me with Mary DeFusco, a public defender who co-founded the Project Dawn Courtfor women convicted of prostitution, and Father Matthew Palkowski, O.F.M. Cap., the Catholic chaplain for Philadelphia’s prison system.
Both Ms. DeFusco and Father Palkowski thought that the women they serve would benefit from hearing me speak, particularly since I speak about recovering from things that pretty much every female inmate has endured: the abuse and the misplaced guilt that its victims suffer, as well as post-traumatic stress and coping behaviors that do more harm than good.
The funny thing is, I never did get to do that mother-daughter event; it was canceled.
LOPEZ: Tell me what you could and couldn’t manage to bring inside when you spoke at the jail.
EDEN: Lockups are notorious for sharply limiting items from outside, and the Riverside Correctional Facility, the Philadelphia women’s jail, is no exception.
Before you can get past the front room of a jail, you have to show the guards everything you wish to bring in with you, including paper items. Personal effects such as your purse or wallet, and anything that you’re barred from bringing in, go into a locker. Since the stories of saints who found healing from the wounds of childhood sexual abuse are at the center of My Peace I Give You, I wanted to bring in poster-size images of some of the saints I would be discussing in my talk. However, the permissions form that the chaplain had filled out said I was bringing “Christian literature,” and the guard at the jail’s entrance said that the images did not count as “literature.” When I pleaded, she let me bring some of them in. One of them, however, she rolled up and gave back to me, saying I had to put it in the locker with my purse before she would let me pass.
I stuffed the image in the locker quickly in order to move on. It wasn’t until beginning my talk that I realized with regret that the one saint I could not show the women was the one I most wanted them to see: Blessed Laura Vicuña, a young Chilean girl whose story was the main inspiration for my writing My Peace I Give You.
LOPEZ: Who is Laura Vicuña and why did you want her there?
EDEN: When I discovered Blessed Laura in December 2010 through Ann Ball’s Modern Saints, I was amazed to learn that there was a Blessed of the Catholic Church — that is, someone worthy of veneration and very close to being canonized a saint — who was sexually mistreated by her mother’s live-in lover.