In the West Indies, women are expected to be strong. Some of them are the cornerstone of numerous single-parent families, and they do their best, for better or for worse, to raise their children. The passivity of women underscores their collective sense of worth, and this plague is passed from mother to daughter and beyond. In the islands, women are raised to accept their roles as second-class citizens, to be used and manipulated.
So when Cesselee, a teenage mother, rises up to challenge this expectation and avenge her rape, her misogynistic culture fights back. Angered by what she considers to be injustice, she follows the dubious advice of her childhood friend, Little Johnny, who loses his life in a fire while trying to save a homeless drifter. Cesselee is imprisoned after she sets her tormentor's dental office on fire. Now, her rapist remains free, basically unpunished for his acts-as she is dealt a harsh sentence for hers. In a series of letters to her lover, Cesselee shares her deepest thoughts, cherished memories of her childhood, and her hopes for the future.
In prison, Cesselee finds strength in the plight of the women she meets. Yet despite the friendship of a female prison guard, Roberta, and fellow inmate Vicky; the support of her mother, Mary; and a marriage proposal from Warden Moore, the experience proves too much for the gentle beauty.