After writing Friday's post about cathartic writing, I think my mind was tuned into that particular subject because related stories started popping up on the local news, on the radio (yes, I listen to an actual radio), and in my news feeds. While the news feed thing is likely the result of some deep-web algorithm feeding me what it thinks I hunger for, the overall theme was that the subject matter was very much out there. And one particular topic caught my mind that I thought I would share in this post: Programs that get prisoners to become writers.
Now, does it really matter if a prisoner sentenced to life without chance of parole for a crime they obviously committed gets a chance to write? In my opinion, that's not the point. The lifer has their own situation that I won't get into. The part that struck me as interesting is that with a lot of these inmate writing programs, the facilitators discovered that these prisoners not only had a lot to say, but experienced an immense benefit from the end result of writing, which is being heard. That is a very overlooked part of the entire writing process, and well worth looking into a little deeper.
When writers create something, be it fiction, a life story, an opinion, or whatever, they are broadcasting a part of their self into the world. Even in writing a fictitious story, a writer is showing the world a piece of their creative self. And when those written words are read and they affect another person, when they are acknowledged and responded to, the writer feels real. They feel heard and understood. And the interesting part with these prison writers is that they seem to have a common desire to be understood. To clarify, this is not the same as the urge to plead innocent to whatever crimes they committed. This is just a chance to be seen as another person with their gifts and flaws, with their uniqueness for better or worse. Many of these inmates never had that experience until they began writing, and it gave them a chance to feel acknowledged by something or someone else other than a jury of their peers.
Of course, a number of these inmates used this opportunity to look back, in some cases with brutal honesty, at their own faults and shortcomings, at where they screwed up or took a wrong turn, or just listened to their darker angels one too many times. Obviously, nothing like writing can undo whatever crimes they committed, but if this exercise can bring a little clarity to their lives, then maybe some of them can break the cycle of being a habitual criminal.
When creative types have no outlet to communicate who they are; to be seen and heard, then the whole world is very much a jail. However, that first act of creative expression, that statement to the world provides a creative freedom, even for those who never knew they were in prison.