Prison Writes held a workshop at the Tompkins Square Branch of the New York Public Library Saturday January 16th.
Titled ‘Memoir Writing 101’ the workshop invited participants to share pieces they’d written prior to the workshop as well as create new writing based on prompts provided.
Prior writings brought by participants to share included letters from an incarcerated mother to her adult children detailing a traumatic day of incarceration. The letter touched on the strong bonds forged between incarcerated mothers, some who longed for the company of their children, some who felt comforted by their love, and one receiving the news of the death of a child by gunshot. Another participant detailed an incident where he was shot over a long forgotten beef.
The prompt ‘write about your name’ revealed feelings including anger, frustration, and ambivalence. One participant found him self caught off guard when asked the meaning of his name. He became at once curious and frustrated at not knowing the answer. Another shared her lifelong dislike of her first name, which she was teased about as a child. She eventually gave her baby the same name, which then became a cherished family name.
These are just a few examples of the sharing that occurred between people who never met one another, yet shared in common the experience of incarceration. As one participant put it, “The world is not a felon friendly place.” Prison Writes workshops provide participants with a starting point of understanding and acceptance in a space where they are relieved of the stigma of incarceration.
While the majority of what was shared related directly to the experience of incarceration, participants also wrote and shared about experiences unrelated to incarceration.
To identify any impact of the workshop, pre and post surveys were administered to participants. In order to measure any change in attitudes or ideas around writing, survey questions were identical in pre and post surveys.
These short surveys revealed that participation in one writing workshop can increase an individual’s confidence in their writing. In one pre-survey a participant responded ‘no’ to the question, ‘Would you call yourself an author?’, where in the post-survey they responded, ‘yes’. Another participant in response to the question, ‘Is publishing your writing a goal of yours?’ in the pre-survey ‘never thought about it’, where in the post-survey they responded, ‘Maybe’.
Prison Writes workshops support participants in recognizing their innate ability to communicate through writing. While their stories are unique, there is a universal quality to the benefits of sharing.