With the generous support of a grant from Literacy for Incarcerated Teens (LIT) Prison Writes workshops are being brought to youths living in group homes in Brooklyn under Administration of Children’s Services Close to Home program. “Launched in 2012, Close to Home allows youth who are deemed Juvenile Delinquents by the Family Court to be placed in residential programs closer to their families and communities. Under Close to Home, young people receive therapeutic services at small group homes in or near the five boroughs where they are close to resources that can support their treatment and transition back into their communities.”
I had the pleasure of co-facilitating the first two workshops with a group of young men in Close to Home with Laurence Klavan.  Laurence is the author of over eight books, three full length plays and five one act plays. Laurence brought his young adult novels “Brain Camp” and “City of Spies” to share with our young participants. We also shared comic books with the young people as a way of introducing character development and plot structure. The young men were very impressed to meet the actual author of an actual book. In talking about super heroes we introduced youth to the new issue of ‘The Black Panther’ comic. They were impressed that this first edition comic featuring an African Super Hero (no relation to the Black Panther political group of the 60’s) authored by none other than Ta-Nehisi Coates, sold record numbers for a comic book.
In only two workshops the young men created a super hero with accompanying powers such as teleportation and gave him a compelling back-story. I wish I could tell you more, but the young men thought it was so good, they were concerned someone would steal their idea so I’ve got to keep it top secret. Each participant received a journal and a comic book to keep.
I am looking forward to facilitating workshops in the girls home this July and August with two outstanding writers and teachers.
Laura Geringer Bass is the author of twenty books for children including the bestselling A Three Hat Day, an ALA Notable Book illustrated by Arnold Lobel, a Top Ten featured selection on LeVar Burton’s Reading Rainbow. Her YA fantasy, Sign of the Qin, an ALA Best Book, was shortlisted for the Printz award. Myth Men, her popular series of graphic novels, was adapted by CBS as an animated TV show.
Marybeth Zeman is the author of “Tales of a Jailhouse Librarian: Challenging the Juvenile Justice System One Book at a Time.” Marybeth’s book, “gives faces to the growing national conversation—educate, don’t incarcerate. Instead, of reading facts and figures in newspapers, Marybeth Zeman gives the readers a glimpse of the everyday lives of incarcerated youth. Marybeth was a teacher for 30 year prior to becoming the transitional counselor in the school program for incarcerated youth at the Nassau County Jail in 2010. Marybeth became what Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times described as “the ‘book-lady’ who brought books to a juvenile detention center and used them to try to build kids up again.”
Young men and women who are court involved, assigned to alternative to incarceration (ATI) programs and held in detention are most often alienated from school, are high school drop outs and generally have not experienced support and affirmation in a school setting.
Prison Writes social work model understands that most likely prior to their court involvement, these youths education has been interrupted due to a variety of factors including: Behavioral issues, instability with family and housing, community violence, gang involvement, poverty, learning disabilities, substance abuse, complex trauma and PTSD.
“For youth who become court-involved the costs are far-reaching and include a breakdown of family and community relationships, negative impacts on psychosocial development, and loss of educational and employment opportunities.”
Prison Writes is pleased to work with our partners to create more affirmative programs and models that will prevent recidivism while building a strong foundation for ongoing development and life long learning for our participants.
LIT was founded in 2002 by a visionary New York City teacher named Rebecca Howlett, who recognized that the literacy needs of detained and incarcerated youth are intertwined with their lack of access to libraries and reading facilities.
We are so grateful to LIT for supporting our work. We know that they understand, as do we, that literacy is key to improved functioning including self-expression and comprehension, building vocabulary, communication, and everything from writing a college application essay to a resume.
 http://www.literacyforincarceratedteens.org/ (2016)
 http://www1.nyc.gov/site/acs/justice/close-home.page (2016)
 http://www.laurenceklavan.com/ (2016)
 http://www.talesofajailhouselibrarian.com/ (2016)
 https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/sites/default/files/nyec-court-involved-youth-postsecondary201305.pdf (2013)