At the age of 15, Eve MacDougall broke a storefront window at a bakery to steal a loaf of bread. Hungry and desperate, she soon realised that behind the busted window, there were only plastic ornamental loaves. For that crime, she was sentenced to and served two years in a women’s prison.

Surrounded by adults, most of whom were also there for petty crimes, Eve thought her fate was sealed. As a result of this one error in judgment, she experienced recurring bouts of suicidal tendencies, imprisonment and domestic abuse, all related to her plummeting sense of self-worth.

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Girls Behind Bars exhibition. Photograph: Pharmacopeia

Some thirty years later, Eve has managed to turn her life around, and art has made a big part of the difference. She sought assistance through social welfare organisations and earned an education so she could help herself and others in similar situations. Now, Eve is an advocate for alternative forms of social rehabilitation, especially for female and child offenders. In 1999, she wrote a book about her experiences called A Wicked Fist: A True Story of Prison and Freedom. She also writes poetry and creates visual art, while tutoring others at the same centres where she sought help as a young woman. Eve has recently been working with Together’s Our Space Gallery in London, where she contributed as curator and artist to their 2011 exhibition, “Girls Behind Bars: Female Experiences of Justice“.

Click here for A Wicked Fist: A True Story of Prison and Freedom

Recent psychological studies now concur with MacDougall’s long-time assertion that female prisoners should be treated differently from males because they are different. Art therapy in women’s prisons has a demonstrated greater effectiveness in treating depression, anxiety and an external locus of control.