Yesterday was the final session of the UNO/NE Writers Collective creative writing class. Instead of a regular class we had a poetry slam in the visiting room with an audience of several other guys from various education classes, the UNO students who had read our materials, and even the Nebraska State Poet, Matt Mason.

All of us in the class had submitted a piece or two to read for the audience before hand. I had submitted One Way To Never Be Embarassed Again and Breaking The Chains (the poem in memory of Terry Berry). One lighter and one heavier work. Unfortunately, the administration censored me from reading the one about Terry Berry probably because of the law suit over his death. But is anyone going to really take what an inmate wrote for a creative writing class as some sort of public statement from TSCI? I was even told I couldn’t state that I wanted to read 2 pieces but was only being allowed to read one so I got up and said that I choose to read none of my work for reasons I wasn’t allowed to explain. If I couldn’t read the Terry Berry piece I didn’t want to read anything. I was sad to have missed the opportunity to read at least one of my pieces of work in front of the NE State Poet, but principles before ego. *sigh* I hope that the instructor from the NE Writer’s Block, Nicholas Bell who works for Matt Mason, will show him my work on my blog.

I also got to meet the UNO student who had been reading most of my writing during the class. We went by pseudonyms during the class. She was M.A.C. and I went by Bobinho. (Meaning little clown in Portugues. I lived in Brasil as a kid and my father’s name is Bob and I went by Bobby. However in Portuguese they have a hard time ending words in consonants so they called my dad Bobo, which means clown, and since Bobby is the diminutive they used the Portuguese diminutive and called me Bobinho, technically an N with a tilde over it.) It was great to finally meet her face to face instead of through a single written response once a week. I realize in retrospect that I should have taken the opportunity to answer some of the questions she asked in her reviews of my work so instead I am putting them here.

In her last response she said she’d “be incredibly curious to know what [I] think about…the effectiveness of this kind of programming in terms of affecting meaningful change and reform within the prison system.” There are 2 ways to read that question. First, does this kind of programming lead to meaningful change in those to participate in it. I can speak directly only for myself but I found the class very emotionally insightful. After several years down, I had reached a placid state of equilibrium where I didn’t let much disturb me. This is a practical skill one learns when incarcerated because it helps get through your time without blowing up every day over one thing or the other. The down side is that I had buried my emotions and that can lead to a certain amount of detachment from the people and things you should feel deeply about, such as loved ones and personal loss (like my unresolved feelings over my grandmother’s death). For me, plumbing the depths of my calm emotional waters stirred up sediment that muddied the waters but life is a messy process and it’s best to cope with the mess rather than ignore it. The class has helped me connect with and express my emotions and that is meaningful change. I believe I can saw that other students had the same experience. Whether is has helped me “reform” is a tougher question. Perhaps if the writing had focused on our offenses and the harm we caused it might be more focused on reform, but then it wouldn’t have been appropriate for a poetry slam or even outside readers.

The second reading of the question is whether such programming affects meaningful change in and reform of the institution of prison as opposed to the individuals in the program. The very offering of such a program is a sign of positive change in the system. Until some 3 years ago anyone in PC (protective custody) was not let out of their cell for more than 1 hour a day and there was NO programming. Since then the population in PC has increased about 6 fold, we get day room most of the day, have our own yard for an hour every day (if you choose to go out in the cold right now. *brrrr*), and are offered an increasing variety of programs such as the creative writing class. The program itself is an indication of change but I don’t believe this specific program will directly affect more change, except as an example of successful programming which spurs more programming. However, I specifically enrolled in this class to improve my writing and persuasive skills and I intend to use those skills to advocate for change at every opportunity. Perhaps the class itself won’t directly affect much change in the system but I hope that as a consequence of taking this class I, and others, are more effective in our efforts to move the needle. I also hope that the students in the UNO class are inspired to continue to or begin advocating for change from the outside. That’s the reason behind the community forum on unlockthemind after all. *smile*

In M.A.C.’s previous review she had asked why I chose to write Road Kill that week. It wasn’t about prison life in a direct way. The superficial answer is that the assignment was to write about a thing that was bigger than a thimble and smaller than a breadbox. Initially I was considering writing about my watch, as its symbolism and personal emotional meaning would work well in a poem. I hate to take assignments too literally though, I like to push the limits I guess, so instead I chose as my “thing” the 2 road kills. I still have a strong emotional reaction when I remember those 2 scenes and the class had lead me to want to embrace and work through strong emotional responses so I went with the road kills over the watch. I may still write the watch story though. *smile*

Now for some suggestions for the class (if Professor Wuebben reads this) based on M.A.C.’s comments and my observations. I agree that some way of increasing the feedback between readers and writers would help a lot. By the end of the class we were encouraged to add specific questions after our piece and that allowed for much more focused and constructive feedback. Encourage that from the beginning. I also appreciated when M.A.C. highlighted the specific line in each work which she found most impactful. That lets the writer know when things are working. M.A.C. I completely agree that “There is no quick exit, no easy second chance” is the best line of Road Kill. That line is what makes it about more than just those two scenes or even road kill in general. I had not thought that “looking through more family photos she can’t see” in the untitled piece about my grandmother would be so impactful, but you pointed out how it works very beautifully. I also believe that pointing out where a piece is weak is a huge help in improving it. I really liked the idea of working the wind into the intro of Road Kill to tie it into the conclusion better.

I want to also mention the one other reviewer I had, Daniel. I didn’t get to meet him/her at the poetry slam but I greatly appreciated their response to Breaking The Chains. The fact that they wrote at length on the impact and discussion that the piece caused means I achieved at least one of my objective in writing it: to increase awareness of the issue. Your comment that “It needed to be written, full stop” made me proud to have written it. Even though I wasn’t allowed to read it at the slam I am glad it is out there for anyone to read. Thank you for sharing it with others.

I have to say that doing the writing for this class was a pleasant surprise. I enjoyed the challenge of coming up with a new subject every week and the emotional engagement it forced me to have. It was a very rewarding experience. Thank you to everyone who contributed to making it possible.

Now for something completely different. *chuckle* I have developed quite a fondness for Live From Here on NPR. It’s the replacement for Prairie Home Companion but with a more modern, hipster vibe (in a positive way LOL!). Chris Thele (sp?), the new host, is quite a mandolin player – if that gives you any idea of the shows “style.” He also invites on quite impressive musical guests that are innovative, creative, or edgy. Sometimes all of the above. Two weekends ago he had Amy Palmer on, an Australian musician. Even being hoarse from a cold, her first song made me cry. Chris said he cried 3 times while listening to her new album so I’m guessing she likes to choose very emotional subject matter. Here’s an example of her odd ball creativity. She changes the Dr. Who saying “It’s bigger on the inside” to a statement about how all of us are much more than what other’s see on the surface, we are all bigger on the inside. Nice geeky twist. *smile* I also liked her ukulele song about imperfection, that she played imperfectly on the uke. LOL! I am going to add Live From Here to my regular weekend NPR listening – which already takes up from 8 AM to 5 PM on Saturdays. Hey, when you’re in prison you can take a whole day to just listen to fun radio shows. *chuckle*

The yoga class has increased by one. We may even have another new guy this weekend. If you just keep doing what you like eventually everyone else will see how cool it is and start doing it too, right? Hahaha!

As the VP of PR for our Toastmasters club I am responsible for putting together our quarterly newsletter. I am proud to say that the newsletter committee, from 6-8 of us, does a pretty good job of getting it done in a 3 month period given that we can only meet for 1.5 hours every other week and can only type during that type (and the newsletter is typed on a typewriter, not a computer, so we have to do old-school cut and paste layout). One of the least favorite regular columns has been the Grammarian’s Corner which I usually write (who would have guessed? *grin*). This next issue I’ve decided to give up the Grammarian’s Corner and instead write an article introducing UnlockTheMind’s community forum as a resource for everyone’s friends and family. Why it took me this long to realize that I could publicize the forum through the newsletter I don’t know. I’d like to think it’s a testament to how objective I am about publishing it. *chuckle* I also intended to include my poem in memory of Terry Berry in the next issue but then the piece was censored from the poetry slam so I thought it best to get prior approval from Gigstad, the Club Coordinator, before including them. She pointed out that she had not been getting the newsletter approved by the admin. as is proper procedure so I’m fairly sure I can’t include the Terry Berry poem but I hope the forum announcement gets approved.

Last weekend Marty and Jeri came for a visit. I haven’t see McK in a month now but it was great to get to see them. I’m afraid I talked too much about myself during the whole visit though I did at least get a report on how the Lincoln Taiji CNY performance for the LCCA went. They only had 8 minutes out of a 2 hour program so it wasn’t much, especially when you’re talking about 8 minutes of taiji. Ha. Gary even did a couple of minutes of his Choy Le Fut kungfu. I wish I had been there to see it. If I ever get to work release before I’m paroled I hope to get a pass to go to taiji practices. *smile* I also got to iron out some details of the inmate art show with Jeri. She is going to Turkey over the summer for an archeological art dig so she suggested postponing the show until after the summer. She suggested the first Friday in Sept. as UNL classes will have started so students will be back in town. Everyone in here has been happy to hear about the delay as acrylic paints have just been approved so now they can order them and prepare a non-watercolor piece.