For prisoners who have access to writing programs, putting words on a page offers a way to share experience, fear, and pain. Writing provides a new sense of self and identity to those who feel they are only otherwise identified by a number and a crime. The practice also encourages organization of ideas, self reflection, and a better understanding of why they committed acts that landed them behind bars. Prison inmate John J. Lennon immersed himself in his writing. He says it’s the most important thing he’s done, and it presents new challenges.
Behind incarcerated writers like Lennon are great teachers. Across the country educators like Doran Larson make time to go into prisons and hold classes. Larson is director of the America Prison Writing Archive and initially worked with Lennon in 2009, when he ran a writers’ workshop in Attica Correctional Facility. Larson says the significance of writing is not just for the inmates, but for society as a whole: “ There are no other witnesses to how this system works.”
KCRW’s Jonathan Bastian speaks with accomplished journalist and prison inmate Lennon from Sullivan Correctional Facility in New York. He also talks with Larson about why inmates’ stories are as important for us to read as they are for them to write.