BabbleFish

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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

H, My Name is Hannah and When I Go to Prison...

I'm gonna take...handouts. And, uh, a buncha other stuff.

Had to submit a list to the volunteer coordinator at the prison today of all the stuff we're planning to bring with us on Saturday, when we have our first meeting of the writing workshop.

15 pieces of heavy paper/card stock
4 magic markers (red, blue, green, black)
3 handouts, 14 copies each of:
-"My Name," from The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros
-Guidelines for writing together
-"When I Met My Muse," by William Stafford
14 legal pads
1-2 pens each (the facilitators, not the offenders)
2 bottles of water
1 pad of Sticky-Notes "flags"
expandable folder for hand-outs
keys
drivers' licenses
volunteer badges

And yes, I had to be that specific. I have to submit a list every week of the items we will be bringing in and, by extenstion, taking out--the taking out is pretty important. We can't leave items around for inmates to find, because there's no telling what devious uses to which they might put ordinary items like cough drops, paper clips, gum or, heavens, a spring-loaded pen. It's a whole different world, and volunteers are warned to be on guard against prisoners eager to con them.

I'm sure there's truth to that, but it's counter to everything I belive about teaching writing, most of which comes from the Amherst Writers & Artists method developed by Pat Schneider through her work with low-income women in Chicopee, Massachusetts nearly 20 years ago. One of the most basic tenets of AWA is creating a safe environment in which writers are free to explore their creativity. Think that can't be done in a correctional setting? Think again. Read this. And this. And I have my own experiences from two years ago when I took a class called Community Writing in which college students wrote weekly with inmates. When we bent our heads over our notebooks, we had two things in common: we were all women, and we were all writers. And that was what mattered most.

It's not therapy. It's not even about rehabilitation or redemption. It's about offering the disenfranchised the opportunity to find and develop their own voices. So if the administration wants me to provide a list of everything I plan to carry on my person into their facility, I'll do it. If the Department of Corrections says I have to leave my cell phone and handcuffs keys in my car, I'll do that, too. And should I be taken hostage, I'll know that trained officials will be doing everything in their power to secure my release.*

*according to the training coordinator for the prison, they've never had a hostage situation. And did I mention that staff gets 260 hours of training while volunteers get 3? I did? Okay.

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