[My Writing Life] I’m Going to Prison

Minnesota Correctional Facility — Stillwater

I’m spending an evening soon at the Minnesota Correctional Facility — Stillwater. It’s a RIF-connected program, and I don’t really know what to expect. Several of us Minnesota children’s writers and/or poets, including John Coy, Patrick Jones, Sharon Chmielarz, and Marion Dane Bauer, will take part. We’ll each give a 15-minute talk related to reading and writing. The audience will be dads who are inmates, and afterward, their kids (who will not be part of the audience) get to pick 3 free books from RIF. And hopefully the books will give the dads and their kids something to connect over.

I’m excited (it will be nice to talk without giving any thought to marketing–they’re choosing from whatever books RIF offers) but nervous: What do I say? What will matter to them? Will it be scary? I have no idea.

We will see how it goes, and I’ll report back later. Wish me luck!

34 Responses

  1. I suspect you won’t be speaking to hard core criminals so relax. They’re just people who for whatever reason–reasons 99% of us will never understand–chose a negative path in life. Your presentation may be the very thing that sets them on a different journey. BTW — after years studying gifted children and adults I was surprised to learn that a large portion of those incarcerated are our most gifted members of society who were never turned on, challenged, motivated, loved, supported or shown how to live life in a positive way. Drug lords, Mafia leaders and leaders of gangs are not dummies. If they were, crime would be at a minimum. In addition, teachers I’ve met who teach in the prisons say it’s the most rewarding job in the world.

    Good luck. Let us know how it goes.

    1. Yeah, I don’t think it will be physically scary. It’s just the idea of talking to a whole different crowd (I rarely have dads at any book events I do) in different circumstances that has me a little nerve-wracked. Thank you for pointing out that “Your presentation may be the very thing that sets them on a different journey.” That both scares and inspires me:>) I want to do a good job for them.

  2. I suspect you won’t be speaking to hard core criminals so relax. They’re just people who for whatever reason–reasons 99% of us will never understand–chose a negative path in life. Your presentation may be the very thing that sets them on a different journey. BTW — after years studying gifted children and adults I was surprised to learn that a large portion of those incarcerated are our most gifted members of society who were never turned on, challenged, motivated, loved, supported or shown how to live life in a positive way. Drug lords, Mafia leaders and leaders of gangs are not dummies. If they were, crime would be at a minimum. In addition, teachers I’ve met who teach in the prisons say it’s the most rewarding job in the world.

    Good luck. Let us know how it goes.

    1. Yeah, I don’t think it will be physically scary. It’s just the idea of talking to a whole different crowd (I rarely have dads at any book events I do) in different circumstances that has me a little nerve-wracked. Thank you for pointing out that “Your presentation may be the very thing that sets them on a different journey.” That both scares and inspires me:>) I want to do a good job for them.

  3. I never answered your question about what to tell them. Tell them what you’d tell any other group of dad’s. Fifteen minutes is not a lot of time but I’d share why I write, where my idea came from for the book I’m sharing, what I hope children will get/learn from reading the book and funny stories and/or questions kids have said/had after reading the book. I’d challenge them to think about writing a story for their children. They do have a lot of time on their hands, right?

    1. Exactly! The organizer said many of them are interested in writing. And I talked with my sister last night, who was a prison guard for 15 years before her stroke earlier this year, and she said writing is a tremendous escape for most of the men, who have so much time and so little to do. Thanks for your thoughts. I’m going to tweak what I planned yesterday.

  4. I never answered your question about what to tell them. Tell them what you’d tell any other group of dad’s. Fifteen minutes is not a lot of time but I’d share why I write, where my idea came from for the book I’m sharing, what I hope children will get/learn from reading the book and funny stories and/or questions kids have said/had after reading the book. I’d challenge them to think about writing a story for their children. They do have a lot of time on their hands, right?

    1. Exactly! The organizer said many of them are interested in writing. And I talked with my sister last night, who was a prison guard for 15 years before her stroke earlier this year, and she said writing is a tremendous escape for most of the men, who have so much time and so little to do. Thanks for your thoughts. I’m going to tweak what I planned yesterday.

  5. My brother has long volunteered at an adolescent facility, teaching them about pets. He runs a non-profit for adopting animals who need homes (mostly dogs and cats) & takes one or two, teaches the kids (teens) about having a pet, how to care for them, etc. He says sometimes the boys share that they’ve never had a pet, and they love spending the time with a sweet dog, or holding some of the cats. This sounds wonderful, Laura. I think you should treat them like dads too, and talk to them just as you would to any dad. What matters is finding a way to connect to their kids.

    1. Linda, that is so cool. Bringing animals and kids together–that is a sacred calling. You’re right about finding ways to help them connect with their kids over books. I’ve now added a little section to my talk about that. Thanks!

  6. My brother has long volunteered at an adolescent facility, teaching them about pets. He runs a non-profit for adopting animals who need homes (mostly dogs and cats) & takes one or two, teaches the kids (teens) about having a pet, how to care for them, etc. He says sometimes the boys share that they’ve never had a pet, and they love spending the time with a sweet dog, or holding some of the cats. This sounds wonderful, Laura. I think you should treat them like dads too, and talk to them just as you would to any dad. What matters is finding a way to connect to their kids.

    1. Linda, that is so cool. Bringing animals and kids together–that is a sacred calling. You’re right about finding ways to help them connect with their kids over books. I’ve now added a little section to my talk about that. Thanks!

  7. I bet they’ll love that. No one inside will have seen a smile like yours for a while, Laura. Good luck!

    1. Aw, thanks, Catherine. Smile–that’s right. I have to remember to smile! I forget that sometimes (I really do) when I’m speaking to groups.

  8. I bet they’ll love that. No one inside will have seen a smile like yours for a while, Laura. Good luck!

    1. Aw, thanks, Catherine. Smile–that’s right. I have to remember to smile! I forget that sometimes (I really do) when I’m speaking to groups.

  9. Oh Laura, what a wonderful opportunity for you and for them! Yes, some of them will love the idea of writing as an alternative way of dealing with the curve balls life throws at them (or that they insist on jumping in front of) and you’re just the person to help them see that. Enjoy!

    I took this year off from teaching at the prison so of course, I miss it.

    1. Thanks, Susan. I thought of you immediately when I was approached about this. I only have 15 minutes to talk, so it will just be a quick thing (several times over). I’m going to try to channel your bravery!

  10. Oh Laura, what a wonderful opportunity for you and for them! Yes, some of them will love the idea of writing as an alternative way of dealing with the curve balls life throws at them (or that they insist on jumping in front of) and you’re just the person to help them see that. Enjoy!

    I took this year off from teaching at the prison so of course, I miss it.

    1. Thanks, Susan. I thought of you immediately when I was approached about this. I only have 15 minutes to talk, so it will just be a quick thing (several times over). I’m going to try to channel your bravery!

  11. This past summer I was really excited to donate audio copies of MARE’S WAR to the Bedtime Stories program at Juvenile Hall in my county. They play a chapter a night…

    This is the work of good. Well done, you, for bravely going IN and getting involved.

  12. This past summer I was really excited to donate audio copies of MARE’S WAR to the Bedtime Stories program at Juvenile Hall in my county. They play a chapter a night…

    This is the work of good. Well done, you, for bravely going IN and getting involved.

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