While researching for ALLEGEDLY, I interviewed girls raised in group homes or spent years in juvenile prisons. Some I talked to over the phone, some I met in person. I needed to fully absorb their experiences in order to accurately portray the main character Mary’s realities, subsequently forcing her to endure some horrific experiences. There is one encounter that Mary experiences in her jail cell, a story told verbatim by one of my interviewees. Absorbing such experiences to write them required a bit of self-inflicted torture. Sometimes, you have to become the character in order to understand their motives. I spent over a year stuck inside the mind of an abused 16-year-old and some days it felt impossible to crawl out, relying heavily on cookie dough, Twilight movies, and romance novels, albeit guiltily as girls like Mary don’t have such escapism luxuries.
I didn’t want to perpetuate stereotypes or further elaborate truths already known: that some prisons can really be straight up inhumane for children. I also didn’t want my book categorized as torture porn, by describing the despicable details. But I also didn’t want to –and couldn’t– sugar coat what girls like Mary endure just to make it more palatable. Not everyone has a happy ending. Prison is not a shiny episode of Orange is the New Black.
Another one of my research was documentaries on girls in prison. Here is one that always struck me. About Cyntoia Brown, a 16-year-old convicted murderer.