Indiana Prison Writers Workshop extends the state’s vibrant literary community to correctional facilities and communities impacted by violence.
The 12-week curriculum, designed by a team of writers from across the state, offers offenders and those who have experienced violence in their communities, a foundation in creative writing through the use of weekly writing prompts as well as an introduction to fiction and non-fiction, poetry, rhetoric, and playwriting. Each week we provide a sacred space where students can write and feel free to share. Each person in the writing circle is the expert of his or her own story and they share one at a time while others do their best to listen without judgement. This builds empathy and allows us to make sense of our lives.
It’s a nourishing, therapeutic environment, but it’s not therapy. It’s not a treatment for someone who is in need of mental health support. But all of us care, and we give each other permission to speak and to unburden ourselves. We practice listening intentionally.
As part of students’ assignments, working drafts of 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 writers, we get a chance to hear all stories, and 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 also enhances our ability to review work. Upon successful completion of the workshop, students will have a portfolio of revised stories and a published anthology of their work.
Other components of the workshop include visiting writers, and submitting student work for publication 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.
Learn how art programs like ours help change behaviors and attitudes.
Article: Justice Policy Journal: The Impact of Prison Arts Programs on Inmate Attitudes and Behavior: A Quantitative Evaluation
Learn more about employment challenges offenders face after prison.
Article: Urban Institute by Justice Policy Center: Employment after prison.