"What I Want My Words to Do to You" follows Ensler as she conducts a writing workshop with female prisoners at New York's Bedford Hills Correctional Facility. Ensler has been volunteering at the prison since 1998 and plans to continue working with her prisoners until they are all release from the facility.
In an interview in the Dallas Morning News, Ensler spoke about her feelings about working with the female inmates. "Being a person who spends most of my life devoted to ending violence, and working with survivors of violence, it's been very interesting to be on the other side of it — to look at what motivates people to commit violence," Ensler said. "It's been a very profound experience in that it's given me enormous compassion in both directions. And that's unsettling in a way, because nothing's black or white, or yes or no, or right or wrong. Everything's complicated. And it's a much harder zone to live in than a zone of, like, the evildoers and the good people."
When asked what she thinks leads people to violence, Ensler told the Dallas paper, "I think that humiliation and shame are probably at the core of all people who commit violence. Really, if you strip us all down, what most of us want to be in this world, or what we want most, is we want to matter to someone, we want to know that we matter. And I think one of the things I've seen about women in prison is that most of them never felt like they mattered to anyone. Sometimes violence is this odd way of mattering. You actually see yourself as having an impact."
After the writing sessions, a group of high-profile actresses — including Glenn Close, Marisa Tomei, Hazelle Goodman, Rosie Perez and Mary Alice — will read the prisoners' works at an in-prison performance. “I want my words to make the past go away,” wrote one of the inmates, “so that the past is like the earth made over each spring, raked and hoed and made ready for new planting.”
"What I Want My Words to Do to You" will air in the metropolitan area on WNET/Thirteen at 9 PM ET Dec. 16; check local listings. Visit www.pbs.org for more information.