Last week, I told you I was going to prison to speak in a RIF-related event.You guys gave me great advice–thank you! I wanted to let you know how it went.
I was there with a bunch of fantastic writers, like Marion Dane Bauer and Sharon Chmielarz and John Coy and Patrick Jones and Tom Fitzpatrick and Tim, who I spoke with and whose last name I shamefully can’t recall. It was a mix of poets and prose writers (though the focus was on poetry) and writers for kids and adults.
The inmates who participated got to choose 3 RIF books to send to their kids. There were two speakers per room, and we talked with them about the power of books and reading and connecting with your kids. We talked about our writing and what we got out of it, and how we could give that to people we love.?The inmates were mostly young, though there were a few older guys, too. I had no idea what their crimes were, and I’m glad I didn’t. I know several were in there for 30+ years, and a few were in for life with no parole. So obviously they weren’t there for parking tickets. But I just tried to give them something meaningful that they could hopefully put to use in their life, whether that’s behind bars or not. They were a respectful audience, and while a few were bored, most seemed genuinely interested in writing. My sister, who was a prison guard for 10+ years before her stroke earlier this year, said most of the guys in her prison loved writing. One of the few ways they could freely express themselves.
I only gave three 15-minute talks, but I left home at 2 in the afternoon and got home around 10:30. It was a long day. And I have never been so glad for water and Chapstick. Having to go into the prison with nothing except my driver’s license and three books took away all my little comforts I like to have when I speak: toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, chapstick, big bottle of water, etc. Having no control over where I went, when I went there, and what I could have in my pockets made me appreciate those small freedoms all the more.
I also had a nice drive with Marion Dane Bauer (Newbery Honor writer who can and does write everything!) and Sharon Chmielarz (one of the first poets I ever heard speak–one of the two who made me think, Hmm…poetry…she’s making it sound interesting!) and a relaxing dinner together before finding our way to the prison.
So, that’s how my time went. Thanks again for your advice and encouragement. I really appreciated it!