I took a creative writing class in prison and it was where I first learned how much I really enjoyed writing, and this article from the New York Times Book Review magazine reminded me of that.
“The sliding door buzzes and rumbles open. The guard calls out: “Come on, you’re next.” I stand up from the waiting area pews, where I have stowed my bag, watch and jewelry in a locker, and step forward. I enter the trap, a room between outside and inside worlds. I turn my pockets inside out, remove my shoes, walk through the metal detector and receive an ultraviolet stamp on my wrist. Every few months for 12 years, I have visited a Massachusetts prison to teach creative writing to a group of locked-up men.
“The visits begin with a welcoming. The men rise from their circled chairs and thank me for coming to their cramped classroom. They hurry to get me tea or instant coffee and animal crackers, for which they have chipped in. They pass around a baggie of what my grandmother called penny candy: caramel squares and peppermint wheels, root beer barrels and Atomic Fireballs. Take a minute to breathe, they urge me. How’s your moms, your son?
“After we’re settled, we go around the circle for a check-in. I had a visit. I moved cells. I worked on my garden plot. I worked on my appeal. They tell their mostly mundane news, each one finishing up with And with that, I’m in, conveying his commitment to the group’s efforts while passing the focus to the next man.
“After everyone has spoken, we turn to our afternoon’s work with meditation. “Close your eyes,” one of them says. “Picture yourself in a green meadow, feeling the sun, the grass, the summer breeze.” He banishes the wasteland of prison and conjures color, life, peace. When we have returned from our imagined freedoms, I offer up a writing exercise:”