Deborah Emmanuel

Prison to poetry

How a passion transformed her lifestyle into something more and a sight into her journey.

Deborah Emmanuel is a Singaporean poet, performer and four-time TEDx speaker, her accomplishments consist of poetry slam winnings and for her, changing her lifestyle from a prison included and underage drug and alcohol user to a famous and inspiring poet. She believes the conditions of one’s childhood and experiences impact their behaviour in different ways. Deborah’s childhood included her father having an abusive behaviour towards her and her mother, the fighting and stressful times of her family put her in a bad position. When she was 19, she went to prison for drug abuse. However, after all of her horrific, yet life-changing experiences her attitude towards life isn’t any different to others, as she uses her emotions for good.

For some, living in a privileged and enjoyable lifestyle, people tend to grow up with open opportunities and chances to develop one’s career and achievements. However, people question if Deborah would change her state of childhood and her experiences, however, she believes her experiences have shaped the person she is today and knows that without them, she wouldn’t have achieved her dream and passion of poetry. I believe that experiences build character and even though those memories probably weren’t pleasant, they motivated you to be who you are in the future. Experiences let you evolve and become better. Many of Deborah’s poems come from those experiences. For example, her poem, ‘I love you’ is her expressing her feelings and anger towards her abusive father and addresses how love can be complicated and fake. “So I thought that this was what love meant, a struggle to possess when we only possess ourselves. A need to have another person exactly as we want them.” The way she uses her experiences to tell her audience how her concept of love was shaped into something it’s not, gives the reader an insight into her thoughts and the reasons behind her poetry and where her character comes from. She achieves her poetry pieces by expressing her feelings through words. Poetry let her observed her thoughts which helped her better understand herself, instead of holding all her emotions bunched up in her head.

Emmanuel gives us her view on the court of justice system and how. She states, “You see, with the story and the way I tell the story, there are definitely some issues about the system that come up. I question the way that we rehabilitate most drug consumption offenders. We punish people who smoke marijuana or pop Ecstasy the same way as hard-drug abusers who, say, shoot up heroin — in the same way, or similar ways, at least at the time I was in there,” she conveys a message which lets others think about the perhaps wrong punishments given to people who shouldn’t be brought to levels of others who have done worse. I agree with her view and that prison doesn’t always complete the cleansing of one’s behaviour with this sort of punishment, but instead, it gives them more struggles and grief of their lives. However, in America, although the majority of the people feel that the criminal justice system isn’t tough enough, the percentage that agrees this way has dropped drastically over the past decade. In March 1992, more than 83% said the system isn’t tough enough. By August 2000, the percentage had dropped to 70%. Therefore, even though, not everyone might agree with her, people might be coming to a different opinion, potentially through experiences or from people like Deborah speaking out about it. Many other crimes address this same issue, a bias reaction can easily come out during trials and can result in an unfair and broken system. This possibly evokes her poetry and the story behind it. In her poem, ‘I was told’ she emphasises her struggles and how her punishment was brutal. “I was told to sit properly, I was told to stop moving, stop talking, stop smiling, stop laughing, stop singing, stop dancing, finish eating, walk in line now and be sorry, be very very sorry, because what you did was wrong and now you are suffering the consequences of your actions and you will be sorry for the rest of your life.” Her perspective impacts the views of others and the harsh outcomes of the slightly wrong act, as she expands on her beliefs about the character building through struggles.

Deborah Emmanuel gives a depth insight to her life, the struggles she fought through and how those experiences drove her passion. Not only does her writing benefit her, they inspire others to follow their passion and to fight through rough times. My perspectives are similar to Emmanuel’s. That many people go through awful times. Some of those people might take the wrong path and use those emotions for either revenge or self-pity. However, others will take those emotions and use them for good, as Emmanuel did, she used her childhood and time in prison to reflect on her strengths of poetry and how she can share her journey with others, even though she believes the justice system is broken all of her experiences have somehow impacted her, either in passion or regret.