|Dorothy ‘Serenity’ Hall|
By Roseann V. Warren
Returning to some level of normalcy after incarceration is difficult, especially when the system is designed to perpetuate a disadvantaged state of living. Dorothy Hall, an Augusta, Georgia-based author, dispelled the stigma of being prescribed to poverty and crime when she discovered her calling to write and assist others in getting their stories heard.
Incarceration and the Black community became abundantly clear to me as I began to attend book and motivational networking events hosted by people of color. The more I saw people on platform stages sharing their struggles and personal redemptions, the more I realized just how embedded incarceration is within the Black American experience.
African Americans represent only 13% of the U.S. population, yet make up 38% of the 2.2 million incarcerated in America, making it no surprise that repercussions of incarceration would seep into other areas of public life.
While in prison, Hall would write her mother long letters, and during one of their phone calls, her mother questioned whether Hall had actually written the letters herself. “I write from the heart and would pour my feelings into my letters, especially when writing to my mom. She urged me to write books,” remembers Hall.
Some might fall prey to hopelessness and become embittered, but for Hall, she spent her free time reading urban literature, as these stories mirrored the life she led before being incarcerated. The works of Wahida Clark, an author and publisher who has appeared on New York Times and Essence best-sellers lists with her Thug Love fiction, interested her. Just like Hall, Wahida Clark began her publishing career – within prison walls.
From the 1970s to the mid-80s, U.S. incarceration rates were at 300 people per 100,000. It is now over 700 people per 100,000, with government administrations averting attention to a ‘War on Drugs,’ focusing more on punishment than rehabilitation, and establishing the profitable prison industrial complex, leaving many like Hall to languish in long sentences for non-violent crimes.
“If we do something wrong like a drug crime, don’t give us a life sentence for selling drugs. Don’t think that we can’t come back and change our lives for the better. I don’t think they should count us out like that,” says Hall reflecting on how the system confines rather than gives them a chance to reform. The difficulty in finding a work, much less rent a home in their own names is impossible for felons.
Hall began to write her first novel about a young girl from the South who lives in poverty where crime is a form of survival and unrequited love leads to destruction. Once the novel was finished, Hall sent queries to various publishers including Wahida Clark. “Wahida emailed me back and asked me to send the manuscript,” Hall says.
“After a few months, she wrote back and said I was accepted. I was so excited. It didn’t feel real. Being incarcerated, the door has been closed on you and everybody outside has forgotten you. To get something good in your life, that you did, and it not be illegally done… In that moment, I felt liberated.”
A year after her release, Hall published her debut novel, Feenin’ under the pseudonym Sereniti Hall in 2010. Describing the themes in her books, Hall says, “I try to show the detriment of it all in my stories. Young girls get hooked up with these older men like it’s all glamorous until hearts get broken. Whether it be drugs or promiscuity, they take that baggage over into a good relationship later. I try to incorporate that stuff into my novels.” Writing the sequel, Still Feenin’ in 2013 through Wahida Clark’s publishing, Hall started to connect with other incarcerated writers and launched her own publishing company, 7 Figure Publications. She has published two additional books and represents a roster of authors.
A friend of her sister’s, who is incarcerated, told an inmate about Hall and her publishing company. That inmate so happened to be Falicia Blakely, a woman serving a life sentence for multiple murders. Her story was recently adapted into the TV One movie ‘When Love Kills,’ starring Niatia ‘Lil Mama’ Kirkland and Lance Gross. Blakely contacted Hall for assistance in getting her full story out, as the production company that produced the film barely consulted Blakely. “We had a lot of similarities, not in terms of murder, but when it came to looking for love in the wrong places, and what comes with being with older men. It’s a story a lot of young African American women fall into,” Hall explains of why she agreed to the task. Last September, Hall penned and published, A Treacherous Hustle: Hitting a Lick for the Love of a Pimp, the real Falicia Blakely story. The hope is to reach more people with the intent to help save young women’s lives.
As a publisher, Hall’s main objective when looking for authors is to find ‘a good story’. “I communicate with my authors instead of shutting down their dreams,” she laments. “With my first novel, I thought my editor hated my book. The bashing she gave me – that’s what I called it – was the best thing that happened to me. It taught me how to be better in storytelling and to pay better attention to my writing. The author/editor relationship is really important.”
Ten years out of prison, Dorothy Hall’s hustle is an empowering one. From hustling on the streets, she now resides with her husband and three daughters, manages a hotel, runs her own successful publishing company, and serves as a life coach to her authors. “I like to keep a close bond with my authors. Their people on the outside have counted them out. I try to encourage them. It doesn’t matter if they’ve got one year or a life sentence, they still have a life to live.” Dorothy Hall is a true testament to turning one’s life around, living a dream, and helping others to achieve the same success!