Judy Patterson Wenzel

Writer, Speaker, Social Activist

The latest news and prison stories


Many lessons keep coming from my prison classroom—about the brokenness in our criminal justice system and the urgent need to examine the structural racism that has created mass incarceration. The prison fence is a powerful symbol of the divisions between us with more than two million people behind bars. People's lives, their families and communities are devastated, so it is easy to feel like we are going backward.

I also want to look for and hang on to hope. My intention here is to give the men I was privileged to teach a voice, to dispel some of the prejudice that prison creates, and to talk about how my students nurtured and taught me. I want to advocate for second chances not only for people behind bars, but for all of us as we look for resourceful, life-giving solutions. I want to shine a light on people's goodness and their ability to do amazing things—in spite of the brokenness and divisions we feel in our American life today.

My prison students opened my eyes and changed my life. In no other way could I have learned so much about people whose backgrounds and experiences were so different from my own. As I finish and promote my book, Light from the Cage: 25 Years in a Prison Classroom, I am eager to listen to all kinds of viewpoints about how we can make our common life better for all of us. Your comments are welcome, and if you could share this website with people you know who care about these issues, I would greatly appreciate it. My thanks!




I was recently privileged to hear Judy speak/read excerpts from her book on her experiences teaching in a Federal prison.

Her stories are both tragic and uplifting. Tragic, because they point out the unfairness of our penal system, a system that is in the best case, misguided and wasteful and in the worst case, a continuation of the systematized racism that continues in our country. Uplifting because of the way her stories - touching, poignant, and funny - celebrate the human decencies of her prisoner students.

As a former medical consultant to the Federal Receiver for healthcare in the California State Prisons, I recognize the truth in her candid observations. I recommend without reservation her upcoming book. It will educate and touch us all.

- Kent Imai, MD

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