Writing Has Changed My Life

Posted: April 6, 2012 by Ed Griffin in Prison
Tags: , , , , ,

A headline in a Vancouver newspaper read Writing Has Changed My Life. It was the story of I.M GreNada, (his pen newspapername), one of my students. The paper was initiating a weekly series of columns by this inmate. I was very proud.

He had come to me the year before and said, “Ed, make me a writer. I want you to critique me and don’t pull any punches.”

red pencilI sharpened my red pencil. A week later he gave me his first column. Even though I mixed my suggestions with praise, I did what I. M. had asked and let him have it. The column had more red pencil than black ink.

“What’s the idea?” he asked. “That’s a good column.”

“Yes, it is, but it could be a lot better.”

A week later he resubmitted the column, much improved. This went on for a year. He was one of the best students I ever had.

He made a rule that he would not mention real names nor prison locations, and then he sent his columns to the paper. They bought them. We were very happy.

Two days later I was called into an administration office. I had never met the woman before and was unsure of what her role was. When I asked, she dodged my question by grilling me about my class. “What do you teach your students? What attitudes do you foster?”

Where was she going with all this? Her tone was that of an agent from the CIA or CSIS (The Canadian version of the CIA). spyMy eye caught a copy of the newspaper on a chair, with the headline, Writing Has Changed My Life.

“Who wrote that?” she demanded following my glance to the paper.

“The inmate prefers to be anonymous, to keep his family from any repercussions.”

“Who wrote it? Which inmate?”

I repeated myself.

“We want to supervise what material goes out of here,” she said. In my mind, I replaced the word ‘supervise’ with the word ‘censor.’

My grilling went on for forty-five minutes. It felt like two hours. Over and over, “Who wrote this?”

I tried to call her attention to how wonderful it was that writing had changed his life. That was like selling dandelions to the weed-killer company.

Finally, I asked to leave, if she had no more questions.

“Who wrote that?” she asked and I stood up and left.

Why? Why didn’t she rejoice that writing had made a difference for a man? After all, she worked for Corrections.

See for yourself. Check his columns out. http://theincarceratedinkwell.org/    Is he a positive influence or a negative one? Should I have given this authority figure his name?


Images courtesy of:

  • careersinmediascotland.wordpress.com
  • spy.scienze.univr.it
  • rnw.nl


  1. Joanne says:

    I love your ability to stand up for what’s right, to stand your ground, and then to write about it in here. Some of the people you are dealing with have absolutely no sense of humour. So once again, I applaud you!

    And thanks for the link to the incarcerated inkwell. I had gone there before but the latest blog on the site had me in stiches! That is certainly a good way to look at what goes on inside prisons–through the filter of humour.

    By the way, to answer your rhetorical question in red, “Corrections” means punishment not rehabilitation.

    • Ed Griffin says:

      Thanks, Joanne. My son says I’m like an ice breaker. I rise up and smash down on things. Better if I were cool, figured out the best way to make change and then do it. Injustice bothers the hell out of me and I have found a lot of injustice in prison.
      Yes, Humor is a great change agent.

  2. Joy says:

    This is such good writing Ed. I was immediately drawn into the story, found myself really pissed off at your inquistor and absolutely had to click the link and read equally compelling writing. Thank you and kuddos!

  3. This is very disturbing, Ed. I wonder if there’s any way a group of people from overseas could put a little pressure on the authorities about this – leaving you out of it completely, of course.*
    or would that simply endanger what you’re doing?

    * In a book called FROM THOSE WONDERFUL PEOPLE WHO BROUGHT YOU PEARL HARBOUR, Jerry de la Femina, an advertising man, claimed that 5 adverse letters could shake an account worth millions; I have never forgotten that.

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