Indiana Prison Writers Workshop extends the state’s vibrant literary community to correctional facilities and prisons.
The workshop, created after four months of research by a team of writers which included authors from the Indiana Writers Center, gives offenders a foundation in creative writing through the use of weekly writing prompts. We write about race, poverty, social integration, the frailty of mind and body, vulnerability through trauma, victimization, mental illness, drug and alcohol addiction. We write cover letters and offer frequent grammar tests to measure program progress and build success.
We discuss and analyze published works from various genres as well as the stories that are written by workshop students. As part of students’ assignments, working drafts of new stories are brought to class to share and submit for instructor feedback. Students’ drafts are read in class, and classmates offer instructor-led critiques and reactions to each piece. We consider grammar and spelling during their review in order to improve students’ basic writing skills as well.
As writers, they get a chance to hear their stories the way others hear it; this feedback is invaluable for revision. As listeners and readers, students learn how to articulate what is working or not working in another student’s draft, which will also enhance their ability to review their own work. Upon successful completion of the workshop, students will have a portfolio of revised stories.
Other components of the workshop include visiting writers, published anthologies of students’ writing, or submitting student work for publishing as appropriate. Guest writers offer expertise in specific genres, such as fiction, screenplay writing, etc.
In order to make an impact, we must do so not only in the lives of the imprisoned participants, but on broader social change in our current system of mass incarceration. While all prison arts and literacy programs may be providing crucial access to resources that otherwise would not be there, all such programs are not necessarily working to resist our current system of mass incarceration. As writers and researchers, we must consider the kinds of literacy practices we enable as well as suppress.