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What is Understood Need Not Be Explained

In this episode, Mary describes her homecoming as a bittersweet process, from the gravestones she visited to her ideas on independence, her triumphs as an artist, and the love she had for her first job at Meijer. She also tells stories about the joy and terror of new entertainment technology, and the profound and freeing sense of mobility that still influences her today when she travels with her wife.



Mary Heinen McPherson is a Master Social Worker and a Senior Administrative Specialist. Mary was sentenced to prison in 1976 and within months of entering prison, she became an outspoken advocate for women. She was the lead named plaintiff in the landmark case, Glover v. Johnson, which secured gender equity in prison educational and vocational programming and held prisoners have the constitutional right to access to the courts. While incarcerated, Heinen earned a paralegal degree and two bachelor degrees and assisted thousands of women and their families with legal issues. Heinen was released in 2002, when Michigan Governor John Engler commuted her life sentence. Since her release, she has served on the Working Group on Reentry in Lansing, the statewide Michigan Prisoner Reentry Initiative, and the Reentry Roundtable in Grand Rapids.

Mary is the co-founder of the Prison Creative Arts Project, which provides university workshops and networking opportunities for incarcerated youth and adults in Michigan and hosts the Annual Exhibition of Art by Michigan Prisoners. She also co-founded the national Prison Arts Coalition in California at the Critical Resistance international gathering in 2008. She was selected as an Open Society Foundation Fellow in 201 1 and developed a reentry project to help people returning from Michigan correctional facilities advocate for themselves and determine their own needs. In 2012, Mary received her MSW from the University of Michigan. Mary returned to the Prison Creative Arts Project to teach in 2015, after working with families and youth for the Michigan Department of Community Health. In 2016 she began working as a Program Manager for PCAP, and currently trains over 150 students and volunteers a year to facilitate creative arts workshops in prisons, jails, and community centers in Michigan and beyond. Mary is working to create a Center for the Study of the Carceral State, and provide higher education for prisoners everywhere.

Digital Portfolio


Untapped Freedom TEDxUofM
PLAY Acts of Art The Prison Creative Arts Project
The Prison Arts Coalition
Life Sentences Cultural and Policy Responses to Reentry
The National Clearinghouse for the Defense of Battered Women, Resources, Webinar Archive Reentry Series #4 Formerly Incarcerated Women Talk About Reentry
Opportunity and reentry Creating pathways for returning citizens in Maryland and beyond
Michigan Art for Justice Forum
MOOC on Mass Incarceration
What is the Carceral State?