Jean Trounstine was born in 1946 and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, in a Reform family of German-Jewish background. She learned by her family's example the value of working for the community, a value that she now identifies as rooted in the Jewish tradition.
Trounstine worked as an actress in Hollywood before moving to Massachusetts. In 1986, she began ten years of work at Framingham Women's Prison, where she taught literature, writing, and drama through Middlesex Community College. She innovated a special drama class in which she and the inmates would study a play together and then produce it in the prison. This work became her passion. Although Trounstine's job at the prison was eliminated due to cuts in federal funding for prison education, she remains involved in issues relating to prison and the arts, such as the alternative probation program, Changing Lives Through Literature.
Trounstine is Professor of Humanities at Middlesex Community College in Lowell, Massachusetts. She is the co-editor of Changing Lives Through Literature and has written a book, titled Shakespeare Behind Bars (St. Martin's Press, 2001), about her experiences teaching in the prison. She lives with her husband in Tewksbury, MA.