Monday, August 16, 2010

Beyond FINESSE: Deborah Jiang Stein

Imagine beginning your life not only born in a prison but raised there with your mother your first year, then put up for adoption. Add to that the fact that your birth mother was a heroin addict and at first, so were you.

So begins the story of Deborah Jiang Stein, an amazingly inspiring writer, speaker, and visionary based in Minneapolis. Deborah openly shares her story through her blog; her Huffington Post column; and highly personal essays like “Against All Odds,” which was published in Hyphen Magazine: Asian America Unabridged. In “Against All Odds,” she lays it all out: the highly unusual and high-risk conditions in which she was brought into this world and somehow, miraculously, survived; her discovery of her true beginnings at age 12; her adoptive parents’ inability to understand the discrimination she faced growing up as a person of mixed-race heritage; her own destructive behaviors that more than once almost killed her.

But Deborah does much more than marvel at her resilience and ultimate ability to come to terms with her past and survive multiple overdoses and finally rehab. After touring the Aldersen Federal Prison for women in West Virginia, her birthplace, she chose to offer a series of writing workshops to Aldersen prisoners. She also began to tour other women’s prisons in the U.S. to “speak about resilience, hope, and positive attitude.”

“I share my story as proof that the past does not always define the future,” Deborah states. And while her efforts have already impacted countless women across the country, she’s determined to also help their children, “especially daughters of mothers in prison.”

Her goal: to establish a non-profit program that provides a summer self-esteem camp for such girls in grades K-6 as well as college scholarship funds for high-school-aged daughters of women in federal prisons. Her first step: to establish such a program for daughters of inmates at Aldersen.

Tomorrow, Deborah Jiang Stein will be the keynote speaker at the 2010 National Alliance for Drug Endangered Children Conference in Dallas. The National DEC exists to support children who are at risk because “their parents or caregivers are manufacturing, dealing or using drugs.”

As Deborah takes that stage before an audience of concerned specialists who’ve devoted their lives to protecting and serving high-risk children via fields as varied as health, counseling, substance abuse, social work, prison services, criminal justice, and law, she will surely be recognized as living proof that all the best efforts of people who care really can make a difference and it is possible to rise above extreme misfortune, even when a cycle as potentially devastating as drug addiction and incarceration must first be broken. Surely then Deborah’s Big Vision to help children of prison inmates while continuing to pursue an on-going speaking tour in women’s prisons will be recognized as a vision that deserves every chance of becoming an inspired and impactful reality.


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