Formal Biography

Jean Trounstine is an activist, author and professor emerita at Middlesex Community College in Lowell, Massachusetts whose 6th book is Boy With A Knife: A Story of Murder, Remorse, and a Prisoner’s Fight for Justice (IG Publishing April, 2016). It explores the true story of Karter Kane Reed and the injustice of sentencing juveniles to adult prisons.

Trounstine worked at Framingham Women’s Prison for ten years where she directed eight plays with prisoners. Her highly-praised book about that work, Shakespeare Behind Bars: The Power of Drama in a Women’s Prison has been featured on NPR, The Connection, Here and Now, and in numerous print publications here and abroad. In addition, she has spoken around the world on women in prison, co-founded the women’s branch of Changing Lives Through Literature, an award-winning alternative sentencing program featured in The New York Times and on The Today Show, and co-authored two books about the program. She published a book of poetry, Almost Home Free, and co-edited the New England best-seller, Why I’m Still Married: Women Write Their Hearts Out On Love, Loss, Sex, and Who Does the Dishes. Trounstine is on the steering committee of the Coalition for Effective Public Safety in Massachusetts.

She takes apart the criminal justice system brick by brick for magazines and blogs such as Boston Magazine,, the Rag Blog and Huffington Post.

Full Resume’ available upon request.

Downloadable Photos by Romana Vysatova


Jean in her own Words

► Today, more than twenty years after Karter Kane Reed killed a boy in a tragic high school stabbing, “we know it is dead wrong to treat kids as if they were little adults, no matter what the crime. Yet many of the same policies that impacted Karter, continue to impact young people nationwide.”

  • From Boy With A Knife: A Story of Murder, Remorse, and a Prisoner’s Fight for Justice

►”When people ask me what inspired me to teach in a prison, I tell them what kept me going was not simply my love for literature and theatre.  While it is true that prison is a repressive environment, the one who offers hope in the classroom has the potential to effect change.  For many of the women I encountered, education offered hope; and drama, freedom….I felt a chemistry, a link between their lives and mine.”

►”The world I want to live in does not lock up women and throw away the key.  It does not make laws based on ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  It is a world where prisoners can transform their lives through the beauty of the written word, through the music of a line of poetry, and through an idea that soars through prison bars and lives forever.”

  • From Shakespeare Behind Bars:  The Power of Drama in a Women’s Prison

►”What makes many of us stay married might be called another kind of longing. A longing for what’s irreversible, for what we find while looking for the Holy Grail, some quest for the everlasting. Maybe the deepest satisfactions pull on us like anchors, grounding us whenever we feel the urge to slip away like ships at sea. Maybe what keeps us married is the hand that reaches across the abyss to comfort, a moment in darkness that outlasts all the fleeting brilliance of daylight. It takes us through the tough spots – illness, job loss, our broken hearts.

  • From “The Finish Line,”  Why I’m Still Married

►”Whenever settlers come to a new land, they find a place to bury their dead. In Cincinnati, the dead are scattered around the city, in landscaped acres of trees and streams. Christians lie with Christians, and Jews, with Jews. But separation in the Jewish community cuts deeper: the Orthodox, Conservative and Reform each have different resting places for their beloved, and different customs for viewing their dead. Some Jews are from tribes that forbid their brethren from going inside the gates; they must visit from afar. Others weep openly or leave a stone on a gravesite — to outlast the elements. The body is always buried quickly and not viewed publicly after death. For some, a simple pine coffin suffices; for others, the body is buried in earth; so dust returns to dust.”

  • From “The Memory We Call Home,” Travelers Tales

► “After Chemotherapy”

My sister asks, Do you take a bath every day?

That night I dream of bathing in a closet,
up to my neck in warm water, oiled, perfumed with rosemary,
the scent wafting around me like a blanket.
There are clothes. They’ll get wet.
The skirts and shirts can stay but
someone’s got to move those long dresses.

My mother bathed in the afternoon, sometimes in the morning,
her voluminous breasts bobbing on the water.
I loved to watch her sink into bubbles — the skin before it wrinkles,
a faint blush. Even a shower cap
couldn’t stop those wisps around her ears.

Prickles of hair pebbled her legs.
Freckles across her chest rising just to the nape of her neck,
her chin jutted into the air as if to say
This is my place to go,
my closet, my safe spot away from it all.

Yes, I tell my sister, I take a bath every day.
I just want to sit near my mother,
hand her soap after soap, bring her back.
If only I could have her near me now,
leaning over the tub, soap in her hand,
rubbing my arms, my back, my breast..

  • From Almost Home Free