Recently our founder, Esley Stahl, wrote a guest blog for No Offence! CIC, an international criminal justice network based in the United Kingdom. In it, Stahl discusses the detrimental effects of the pervasive stereotyping of inmates, which largely goes ignored in our society. We encourage you to check out the blog and explore the other news and work No Offence! highlights.
The Rutger’s University Institute for Research on Women will be hosting Marking Time: Prison Arts and Activism Conference at Rutgers University at the beginning of October. The agenda is full of exciting events we wish we could attend! Despite not being able to, it is encouraging that Prison Arts will be the focus of this conference, which is the first of its kind. The conference has gathered programs and program leaders from across the country who focus their efforts on inmate expression through the arts. The event will also include an art exhibit of work from currently and formerly incarcerated individuals. This sharing of dynamic experiences and stories is close to our hearts here at WTR. Even if, like us, you cannot attend the event, you can view some of the art here.
Lead conference organizer, Dr. Nicole R. Fleetwood, captures the spirit of the event, (and similarly our mission) best by saying:
“There is a huge gap between the dominant public perception of prisoners—as lacking in value—and their humanity and productivity, as individuals who dream and envision brighter futures and as cherished ones whose families love and care for them.
Prison art helps to challenge the dehumanization of the incarcerated.”
In class at the Lake County Jail we have read a diverse selection of works that have generated insightful conversation and proved helpful in modeling various writing forms. Most recently, a student mentioned that Tupac Shakur–primarily known to me as a (great) rapper–had written a good deal of poetry. Keeping with our efforts to expose the students to a wide range of voices, I got my hands on his posthumously-released poetry collection The Rose that Grew from Concrete and brought some of the poems to class.
Last week we read and discussed “Sometimes I Cry” (printed below). It elicited some powerful discussion on imposed gender roles and the expectations they carry, how we can help one another, and how to gather strength when one feels broken.
The moment was also important as it reinforced the fact that in that small, concrete-lined, poorly-lit room we all have the ability to learn from one another.
Sometimes I Cry
I cry because I’m on my own
The tears I cry R bitter and warm
They flow with life but take no form
I cry because my heart is torn
and I find it difficult to carry on If I had an ear 2 confide in
I would cry among my treasured friend
But who do you know that stops that long
to help another carry on The world moves fast and it would rather pass u by
than 2 stop and c what makes u cry
It’s painful and sad and sometimes I cry
and no one cares about why.
“Michael said after the workshop that he never would have imagined he’d be a writer. When he reads his work to his peers it is freeing.”
–from SC prison holds writing program for prison inmates by Lyn Riddle
Perry Correctional Institution, a maximum security prison in South Carolina, is host of a creative writing program for inmates. The “Writers Block” program was started by Carol Young Gallagher and Anna Katherine Freeland and functions as a traditional writing workshop where peer critique of work is emphasized.
Three years ago, Gallagher, then president of The Emrys Foundation, began the program after receiving a letter from an inmate asking to start a program. Emrys Foundation, a literary nonprofit which includes an annual journal and press, had previously held writing workshops in hospitals but never prisons. Gallagher, with the help of Freeland who “wanted to do a creative writing program in a prison since she was an undergraduate in the English and creative writing program at Converse College 16 years ago” created Writers Block, which they hope to one day make its own nonprofit and expand to other facilities.
To mark the program’s three-year anniversary, a journal of the inmate’s work will be published this fall.
Read more about the program in The Charlotte Observer.
A recent article in the Kansas City Star discusses the positive impact of of the Arts in Prison poetry class. Arts in Prison exposes inmates to a myriad of artistic endeavors including visual arts, singing, and even Shakespearean performances!
Of their poetry program, inmate Wise Hayes shares his observation that “by writing poetry and writing raps, I found a kind of spiritual release.”
Read more about the extensive opportunities Arts in Prison is able to provide Lansing Correctional Facility inmates here.