Kane County Jail inmates becoming authors through 'Dream Scribers' program

We all have a story and the "Dream Scribers" program is making sure young voices and those often told to remain silent are heard.

"My grandpa died when I was in 5th grade," said Anaya Jefferson, a teen poet. "I wrote a poem about him."

Eight women behind bars in the Kane County Jail are working on self-publishing their own books.

"My book is my life story, an autobiography," said Erilis Estrella. Now released, she was a Kane County inmate for several months.

Estrella is 39-years-old. She’s a mother and grandmother.

While incarcerated, she started writing a book through the Dream Scribers 12-week writing course. The goal is for all the women in the program to turn their pages into paychecks.

Elizabeth Fernandez, 22, has been in and out of prison. She’s writing a book about her struggle with drugs.

"My book is titled, ‘The Battle Between Me and Drugs,’" said Fernandez, a former inmate of Kane County Jail.

At 10-years-old, Fernandez was drinking and by 14 that progressed to using marijuana.

She’s also had an ongoing battle with abusing cocaine.

These women are reimagining their lives after jail because when they are done writing, the goal is to turn their pain into pages and paychecks.

The Dream Scribers program inside the Kane County Jail started in September of 2021.

"Once they get their books written, we are going through the entire process to get them self-published. They will be on Amazon, available at Barnes and Noble," said Natalie Bonner, the co-founder of Dream Scribers.

"We are making sure that all funds they retain, they can use for them and their families," she added.


Bonner and Toccara Hayes are both published authors and the founders of Dream Scribers, a nonprofit driven by donations and volunteers.

"You are giving to populations where people overlook their voices, that’s who you are giving to," said Hayes.

In 2018, Sheriff Ron Hain was elected as sheriff in Kane County. He says it’s difficult for women behind bars across the US to get rehabilitated, but he’s making it his mission to bring more programs to the jail.

"You have these ladies here who are taking advantage of the writing program," said Hain. "You will have someone right below them experiencing extreme mental health issues, that doesn’t allow them to enter into a program like this."

The program reaches beyond the walls of the jail to 13 miles south in Aurora where children ages 7 to 16 are turning their imagination and memories into books.

"I went to a lot of funerals growing up," said 16-year-old Jefferson.

Jefferson is an athlete, a straight ‘A’ student, and soon-to-be published poet. In her young years, she’s seen a lot of death and writes about it.

The children in the program and the female detainees hope their lives and others will be forever changed after reading their books.

"I know my story ain’t for nothing," said Fernandez.