Posts Tagged ‘writing therapy’

Another example of the prison system’s inability to stand up for what is right involves sterile needles used for tattoos.

Prisoners use all manner of tools to do tattoos, none of them sterile. The result of this was infection with hepatitis and/or other diseases. The prison staff knew that in the long run sterile needles would lead to big savings of money and lives. So they allowed the men to set up sort of a tattoo parlor in the basement of Matsqui prison. The needles used were sterile and nobody got sick.

Someone in the community got the word that those convicts were getting free tattoos in the basement of Matsqui prison.

As they always seem to do, the prison staff caved in. The tattoo parlor was closed. Apparently it didn’t matter if men got Hepatitis A, B, or C. What was important was the image of the prison.

intensityThe writing that comes from people in prison is the same as the writing that comes from people on the outside – and it’s totally different. It’s the same in that every writer leaves holes in his writing and so do the people in prison. I submit manuscripts to my writing group, perfect novel chapters that reveal character and keep the action moving. Of course, the members of the group point out the holes in my story, holes big enough to back a semi through.

There is an intensity about writing that comes from prison. Maybe I’m reading into the stories, but it seems to me that there is more feeling in prison writing, be it humor or a novel chapter.

I remember the writing of a man that the authorities said had a very low IQ. He turned in stories about lions and tigers every week. It was clear that he liked these animals, but I felt it went deeper. Maybe he was living through those stories, maybe the animals did what he couldn’t, or maybe he wanted to write something for someone who took him seriously.

Another man writes about a man and a woman as they get to know each other. Yes, it’s like every other story in this genre, but no, the reader feels the deep intensity of the people and the situation.

I admit my analysis might be over the top. Perhaps I’m happy to see inmate writers, because I know they no longer ‘live’ in prison and because they are discovering themselves as they write.

When the government ordered that all prisons, including pretrials – remand centers – had to have schools, the principal I worked for sent me off to start a school at our local pretrial.

“What do you mean ‘start a school,’ I asked.

“You’re good at getting people to write,” he said. “Get them to write.”

For this principal, writing was the key to education and, he shared the intensity I’ve identified.

Image courtesy of  Scientific American

I had a real pleasure this morning. Jack (name changed) called me at 9:30 this morning.

“Hey, Buddy, you home?”

I heard excitement in his voice.

“Yeah, what’s happening?”

I’ve known Jack for eight years. I first met him in PreTrial. The first week he came down to writing class, he asked me for one copybook – the kind that we had in school to keep notes. The next week he asked for two books and every week thereafter. He let me read his writing. He wrote how he missed his girlfriend, how he worried that he hadn’t heard from his mother and how angry he was at a man who had mistreated her. He wrote about how he first got into crime and how he ended up with a reputation for stealing a thousand cars.

His sister called him. “Mom is missing. She hasn’t been in her apartment in over a week.”

The local paper ran a story, “Car thief’s mother missing.” Jack wrote an angry letter to the paper. The point was that a woman was missing, not who her son was.

When his trial came, he pleaded guilty to car theft and was sentenced to federal thief

A few months later he showed up in my prison writing class with more for me to read. His style was simple, but there was a poetry and drama to it. He wrote about his childhood, about his father leaving the family, about his mom’s drinking and his own trouble with the law in his teen years.

Then one day the news came – his mother’s body had been found. He swore that day that drugs or alcohol would never take another member of his family, a promise he’s kept despite the ready availability of drugs in prison.

changing diapers  When Jack finished his sentence, he was not allowed to drive or own a car for three years. He had a baby girl with a woman, who decided to leave him with the baby. He got a job as a painter so he had to get up at 5 AM, prepare the baby and take her by bus to the day care. Then the bus to work and the reverse at night. I will never forget the sight of this one thousand-car thief changing the baby’s diaper.

He often gave talks to young people about drugs and car theft

And so back to this morning. Jack drove to my house to show me his car, which he’d purchased with his own money. He got out and jumped up and down and then slapped me on the back. “I’m driving, old man, I’m driving again. And it’s all legal.”

I enjoy his playful “old man.” (Anyway, it’s true.)

I played a small part in his success. I don’t know if he’ll ever publish his life story, but I know writing it has taught him who he is.

Success story. I felt good all day.

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