The Barbara Project

Madwomen in the Attic is excited to announce that during the upcoming MITA year, we will launch The Barbara Project.

The Barbara Project is a mental health literacy and advocacy project that aims to bring readers and reading into psychiatric facilities.

The project is dedicated to and named after Barbara Warren-Jones, a retired hospital administrator and cancer survivor from Buffalo, NY, who found herself in a psychiatric facility after experiencing memory issues and complications related to dialysis.

One of MITA’s founders, Jessica Lowell Mason, shared a room with Barbara at the Erie County Medical Center in January of 2017. During the days that they spent together, Jessica read aloud to Barbara to pass the time. The act of reading aloud was helpful and soothing for both of them. It was humanizing and it brought solace, civility, dignity, and grace to an environment of depravity.

After starting Madwomen in the Attic with her sister Melissa, in April 2017, Jessica wanted to do something to honor Barbara, promote literacy, and help those held in psychiatric facilities. While she was preparing a MITA agenda one day and writing down “The Barbara Project” as a topic for discussion, she looked across the desk at a book and remembered the act of reading aloud to Barbara. That was it; the experience of reading that she and Barbara shared would be the project itself. Reading was the answer.

Members of Madwomen in the Attic have been working hard to plan and bring to life The Barbara Project, and we are excited to announce the launch of the project, which will take place next year.

The project is simple in some respects and complicated in others. MITA will be working and coordinating with local psychiatric institutions to put the project into action. Volunteer mental health literacy teams of two-three will visit psychiatric facilities on a rotating basis to read aloud essays, chapters, and poems to interested patients.

Our hope is to work with crisis services to prepare volunteers for service work in psychiatric institutions. Volunteers will be asked to read aloud, and will do so in the spirit of kindness and empathy, and with the recognition of the equality of all human beings.

The literacy project is founded on the belief that we are all equals. MITA recognizes that often psychiatry functions on a severe imbalance in power, and our goal is to try to elevate the human element within the psychiatric facility by being present and offering to read to those who are patients. To be treated like a human being and to be read to: those are things that people who are free take for granted but they take on different meaning in contexts of coercion and imprisonment.

Reading is healing. It is healing to all of us. Think of the last time someone read aloud to you, gently, in the spirit of nurturing. Not everyone has the luxury of listening to someone read aloud to them, and this is a service that we want to provide to people who are in mental institutions.

The reading material will consist of literature and poetry written by women or non-binary individuals, in keeping with our feminist mission. It will be uplifting and will not involve obvious triggers, violence, or particularly charged language.

We will be working with local hospitals and psychiatric facilities to learn about the rules and regulations at each institution, so that volunteers can be prepared prior to their reading session at a particular institution.

A Barbara Project Schedule Coordinator will work with volunteers to keep a month-by month volunteer rotation going.

Because books are not allowed in many psychiatric facilities, as they are considered to be potential weapons, we will read aloud from copies of material from books that we have scanned in advance. Patients will be presented with a small group of scanned works to choose from, and prior to volunteering, MITA volunteers will be able to choose works from our MITA library of scanned articles, a very small mobile file-library of scanned works that we are slowly working to compile prior to the launch of the project.

Volunteers for The Barbara Project will be made up of members of MITA, literacy specialists, and members of the community who want to advocate for those with cognitive differences.

If you want to become involved, we need help collecting material, scanning literary material, and printing scanned material for our library for TBP volunteer use.

Please consider attending a meeting to help us make The Barbara Project a success. Contact us for more information at or at 716-406-7576.


The above image was created by Anartchy on DeviantArt. It was chosen because Barbara’s favorite color is orange and because she painted a colorful horizon while she was at the psychiatric institution. She kept the picture of the sunset by her bed, and the horizon of bright oranges, pinks, and purples brought her hope. It is our hope that this project will be Barbara’s horizon for others.

2 thoughts on “The Barbara Project

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  1. This is a revolutionary idea. God bless you. I wish we could have access to this kind of support in kenya where mental health remains a stigma and a shame to the patient and family. Well done.


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