Prisoner to motivational speaker: an inspiring journey

Pro coach in town to share her life-changing experience & reform stories

By Farah Khatoon in Calcutta
  • Published 26.03.18
Ivy Woolf Turk. Picture by Koushik Saha

Calcutta: Former prisoner no. 60216054 of Danbury Federal Prison Camp in Connecticut is in town as part of her mission to empower incarcerated women and transform their adversities into opportunities.

Ivy Woolf Turk took on the role of a teacher and motivational speaker during her four-year stint in jail on charges of fraud. She was later acquitted.

A hairline fracture in one of her ankles while in jail turned out to be life-changing for Ivy, now 62. She landed a teaching job instead of the construction duty she had been assigned before the injury.

"In the classroom, I met women of different ages, races, religion and socio-economic backgrounds but we had similarities too. The common denominator was the lack of self-worth in all the women," recalled the New York-based motivational speaker on her maiden trip to India for a talk on Women Inspiring Women from Adversity to Empowerment, to be conducted by Rakshak Foundation at ICCR on Monday.

"I felt these women needed to be empowered. So I started with things that made me feel empowered, such as yoga, creative writing, music, poetry and art intervention," she said.

Ivy's lessons not only helped 62 women get their high-school diplomas but also saw a renewal of spirit in them. It was also an opportunity for the Boston University alumna to rediscover herself. " In a place where there was little diversion I could see my intrinsic nature and resourcefulness. I was being the real Ivy. It changed me because I realised I have been living my life backwards," said the mother of four.

But reaching out to the women wasn't easy. Ivy was looked down upon as a white woman with a privileged background but things changed soon .

"My motive was not to be a teacher but to be an awakener of their inner beings, so that they could meet themselves instead of the shame and blame and not being worthy of anything," she said, a smile of satisfaction lighting up her face.

A certified professional life coach in private practice, Ivy has co-founded two major platforms - C.H.O.I.C.E.S while in prison and Project Liberation after her term. The first reaches out to at-risk youth in communities outside the prison and the second a personal development platform for women in all stages of criminal justice.

Ivy stressed the need for rehabilitation modules in jails. "Unfortunately many prisons are warehouses of punishment. I believe rehabilitation is essential. Then freedom becomes sustainable," said Ivy, who has over two decades of experience in real estate business.

But Ivy is loathe to leave the prison term out of the patchwork quilt of her life. "There would be a big hole in my quilt because it is part of my life experience. And it would be unreal," said Ivy, who will now travel to Germany, Iceland and Scandinavia to continue her mission.