Tag Archives: prison program

A Peek Inside Our Class

Below, a few students describe the room in which we hold class at the jail:

Six people plus me sharing wisdom from poems each has an interpretation we live in a dog eat dog world. Goodness still overcomes evil thank god for good people the walls are white and tall hard as stone and cannot fall I hear breathing the breath of life the suns getting low it will soon be night solitude and quietness is a peace I like rather day or night thoughts of peace in my mind and how I’m going to occupy time.

This room is the best room in the jail because fellowship, the bible study, the mentor, and I can be by myself and to express myself and watch TV.

Eight cinder blocks wide by twelve cinder blocks long. Suffused with the spirit of Pentecostal meetings to celebrate biblical stories, Christ financial code and the place of God among the tenants of AA and NA.

Place of refuge to create by writing; my one and only creative act of the last six months. Secluded discussion and refuge from Cos that feel free to intrude in every nook and cranny we are otherwise privileged to inhabit here in jail.

Echoing tile floors and painted concrete walls reverberate with discussion and discourse, leaving me free for exactly 90 minutes a week from reality TV, sports, and vapid game shows.

Royal blue and gray plastic tables with matching plastic lawn chairs. Locked entrance and egress seems more to bar staff outside than keep us in.

TV cart, blank screen and a white board with a matrix and magic markers inviting a little highlighted PowerPoint emphasis in red ink. Nirvana on the second floor, home away from home, hope in a box that echoes.

Opportunistic artificial bland facilitator refuge dead end cold uninviting enlightening amusing entertaining catalyst hard influential constructive blessing white blue gray insightful green black brown beige orange silver yellow pink cream dirty inanimate orderly positive productive outlet mundane

Seven souls within four cinderblock walls. Come together to share thoughts, experiences, and writing. Together we share seven different views from life. The neutral colors of the walls are uninspired which have us reach into our memories and minds for imagery. Verbally we bring them to life for the others.

In such a bland uninspiring room our imaginations bring the room to life.

Prison Arts + Activism Conference


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.”

Collaborative Writing

“A little nonsense now and then, is cherished by the wisest men.” –Roald Dahl

Today in class we did a collaborative writing activity that, for you and I, probably harkens back to our days in elementary or middle school. You know, the one in which one person starts a story with one line, the next person picks up writing their own sentence, and so on–all the while folding over the piece of paper so you can only see the one sentence/entry before you are to write yours. The end result is usually a silly, nonsensical mini-story. But most of my students had not had the opportunity to engage in this sort of activity. In fact, only one had done it previously.

We each started with a fresh sheet of paper (myself included). We went ’round and ’round, passing our sheets clockwise. The room quickly filled with excitement:

Our Stories

Our Stories


“How the?”

“Ooooh I got a good one!”

“Dude this is crazy”

“Nah, what the hell am I supposed to do with this?!”

“This is gonna be hilarious.”

After each sheet was almost done and someone noticed there was room for only one sentence, it was that person’s duty to somehow “tie together” or write an “ending” to a story they knew little about. Some stories made it around further than others. In the end, everyone had a tightly rolled sheet of paper. Everyone wanted to eagerly unroll their sheets to reveal the story within. They were looking at these pieces of paper with the anticipation a child looks at the biggest present under the tree. Again, we went around, one by one,  in a circle; each student unrolled their paper like an ancient scroll and read aloud to the group what was written.

Or, I should say, attempted to read. The amount of laughter was uncontrollable. People stumbled over sentences, caught in a fit of laughter. Tears were wiped. Stories were started, then stopped, then started again after breaths were caught. Re-reads were requested because nothing could be heard over the howling. Heads were tossed back in disbelief of the silliness. Faces were red. None of this is hyperbole.

“I haven’t laughed like this in forever.”

“Dude I’m gonna remember this in like, years from now. I’m still gonna be laughing.”

“Man, I needed that.”

I write of this moment, this activity, to share my observations of the impact of this exercise, as I believe it demonstrates a basic tenet of writing (and reading) which is its ability to take us to places unknown.  We can forget about our lives and our surroundings through the written word, whether engaging in writing or reading.

Afterwards, amidst all the excited energy, we discussed the importance of working together, trying out new ideas, sticking with something and seeing it through even if you’re confused. While the students were engaged in that discussion, they mainly wanted to know, “can we do this again next week?” I smiled and realized their cheeks probably hurt as much as mine did.

“Writers Block” Prison Writing Program

“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

Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2014/05/26/4924463/sc-prison-holds-writing-program.html#storylink=Lyn Ridd
Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2014/05/26/4924463/sc-prison-holds-writing-program.html#storylink=cpy

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.

Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2014/05/26/4924463/sc-prison-holds-writing-program.html#storylink=cpy