Camilla Norman Field

Year of Graduation: 
Camilla Norman Field

"It's a much more enriching and wonderful life knowing that I'm both receiving support and giving support."

Camilla Norman Field ’93; P’24 remembers vividly the first time she visited San Quentin Prison. “There was that jarring moment when I heard the clank of the door, when I was in the sally port between the outside and the inside,” she says. “You notice your nervous system responding to that and you also recognize that you’re coming in with a certain bias. I’ve seen Shawshank Redemption, but I thought, is that really reflective of what I am walking into?” 

Turns out, it wasn’t. As a professional certified coach with the Enneagram Prison Project, Field regularly meets with incarcerated individuals in correctional facilities across Northern California. “I don’t see people who are nothing like me because of the lives and choices they made,” she says. “I see human beings who are in the condition and position they are in as a result of tremendous childhood trauma.”

In courses that span up to five months, Field teaches an eight-module curriculum designed to help inmates validate their self-worth and foster self-awareness. “Starting from week one, it’s always some combination of self-acceptance, self-regulation, self-compassion, understanding that there’s actually nothing wrong with them,” Field says. “They’ve done some things that have certainly caused harm to themselves, to individuals, to communities and they’re very aware of that. It’s not about erasing that, but there are things that happened to them that led them to those choices and there’s redemption. There’s a way forward. No one is too far gone.” 

Field first became passionate about reforming the criminal justice system after one of her dearest friends from Exeter was arrested on a drug distribution charge. “Through him, I learned about mandatory minimums and asset forfeiture and the inherent racism in the drug war,” she says. 

Field helped her friend acquire an attorney and, after his conviction, a commutation from then-President George W. Bush. He served eight and a half years of a 14-year sentence. 

“Even though I couldn’t fix my friend’s issue directly, I could work on the policies around the country,” she says. For five years before joining Enneagram Prison Project, Field advocated with the Drug Policy Alliance to address failed drug war policies. 

Being present with someone is such a gift no matter what the circumstance.”

While reckoning with America’s history of mass incarceration was new for Field, a natural inclination to help others wasn’t. At Exeter, she was an active member of ESSO and recalls tutoring a local woman in math in order to help her earn her GED. “That sense of agency, that sense that even at that age, I had an important role to play to make my local community better really landed with me,” she says. 

Field continued on this path at Princeton, studying history and taking on a leading role within the university’s Big Brother Big Sister program. After graduation, she worked in finance and held a series of temp jobs before joining buildOn, a nonprofit committed to ending poverty through service and education. “It is not OK to just sit back and coast and enjoy the ride,” she says. “It’s a much more enriching and wonderful life knowing that I’m both receiving support and giving support and just feeling that connection.” 

It is that sense of connection that keeps Field motivated. “I remember one student at San Quentin,” she says. “We asked everyone to write their names and he wrote his surname. So, I said, ‘Write your first name.’ Over the course of the class, I kept saying his name. At the end of class, he said to me, ‘You said my name. You said it a lot.’ I said, ‘I did. How did that feel?’ He said, ‘I don’t think I’ve ever been seen before.’ That was just heartbreaking to hear. But it makes me remember that just being present with someone is such a gift no matter what the circumstance.”

Editor's note: This article first appeared in the winter 2021 issue of The Exeter Bulletin.

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