“A Little Piece of Light” (Hachette Books), by Donna Hylton with Kristine Gasbarre.
Activist’s memoir a poignant voice for incarcerated women
Donna Hylton opens her memoir, “A Little Piece of Light,” with an admission of guilt and remorse for her crimes. However, this isn’t where her story begins. From as early as she can remember, Donna’s life was marked by torment at the hands of her caregivers. Beginning with her birth in Jamaica and shifting to her move to New York when she was adopted, each phase of her existence promised relief, yet delivered disaster.
When the author was 19, she was sentenced to 25 years to life for kidnapping and second-degree murder. It was in prison where she realized that her history of mental, physical and sexual abuse wasn’t unique. Donna grew to view the women around her as family and took every opportunity to educate herself while incarcerated. What she experienced prompted her to devote her life inside (and eventually outside) prison to the rehabilitation of society’s castoffs.
Hylton endured so much suffering that swaths of the read take summary form. While her traumas are gut-wrenching, she keeps a reserved distance from the most lurid details and focuses more on her survival techniques (which largely involved blacking out) and destroyed self-worth. The result is a wide-angle-lens shot of how abuse impacts women over the course of their lives.
While any yearlong period of her journey is book-worthy, Hylton condenses her experiences into one read. In doing so, her life stands as a case study illustrating how prison reform efforts and support for women in abusive situations can transform individual lives and society.
Since her release, Hylton has continued her fight for women who have no voice. Her story stands as a harrowing, yet powerful, picture of what’s possible when women escape brutality and encounter hope, even in the most unlikely of places.
CHRISTINA LEDBETTER, Associated Press