Prison Writing

Thursday, September 15th, 2011 by Rachel

The following is taken from an email that I just sent to my grandmother in Arizona. About a month ago, she mailed me Crossing the Yard: Thirty Years as a Prison Volunteer by Richard Shelton. I enjoyed this book and definitely think it’s worth reading.


I’ve been familiar with prison writing for some time now, but this book brought me an extensive glance into the prison world. I had some colleagues at NAU who taught classes at the local prison. Here at Georgia College, as part of our Arts & Letters journal staff, I read submissions and I received several from inmates in prison. Though I’ve heard several of my colleagues make offhand remarks about the writing and I never received anything that I deemed worthy of passing up to the Poetry editor, I always made sure to return the original poems (usually handwritten on notebook paper) in the included self-addressed stamp envelope along with the rejection notification. It broke my heart that people would send off their only copy of poems. I’m sure many prisoners don’t receive their work back.


I tried to enroll in the PEN Mentoring Program, serving as an anonymous mentor who corresponds with a prisoner through mail, but they have “enough” volunteers for 2011, and they “may” need more help in 2012. I don’t see how you can ever have too many volunteers, when it seems as though there are many, many prisoners out there who want to write and have others see/critique their writing, but for some reason they’ve got a cap on it.


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