To get involved
• Volunteers are needed to help teach the creative writing classes at the jail and at the juvenile detention center. The class at the jail meets from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays, and at the juvenile detention center from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. Thursdays.
• “Women of Colour” is available for $2 at The Raven Bookstore, 6 E. Seventh St.
• Donations are being accepted to help with costs for future publications of inmates’ works.
• For more information, contact Paige Blair at the Roger Hill Volunteer Center, 865-5030, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
A full literary cycle.
That’s what Americorps volunteer Paige Blair calls the recent six-page publication of collected short stories, poems and essays created by female inmates at the Douglas County Jail.
The cycle begins with a weekly creative writing class that Blair and Iris Wilkinson, a Washburn University human services professor, teach for female inmates at the jail. A selection of those works is featured in the collection “Women of Colour,” now available at The Raven Bookstore, 6 E. Seventh St.
The cycle is completed, said Blair, when the proceeds from the sales return to the inmates for stamps and envelopes to write to their families.
It’s a cycle that benefits both inmates and teachers.
For the inmates, it’s an opportunity to share their experiences.
“I think everybody has a story to tell,” said Wilkinson, who’s been teaching the class for about two years. “(The class) gives them the opportunity.”
Though Wilkinson said the intent of the creative writing class isn’t necessarily anything more than an hourly escape for the inmates, it naturally provides a “narrative medicine,” helping the inmates work through issues in their lives.
“It’s a way to think about what happened in life, and what their hopes are for the future,” she said.
Jail officials would not allow the Journal-World access to speak with the inmates in the class, but Mike Caron, programs director at the jail, said he sees an increased self-esteem in inmates who participate in the creative writing classes.
“(Writing) is empowering for a person who has seldom felt any avenue of escape from the pain and misery except drugs, alcohol or violence,” he said.
For Wilkinson and Blair, the weekly class provides inspiration and enlightenment.
“It’s one of the most hopeful hours of my week,” said Wilkinson. “I think the women have really helped me improve my own writing.”
Teaching the class was Blair’s first time in a jail setting, and working with the inmates has allowed her to see similarities with the women.
“We come from very different starting points,” she said. “(But) everyone has basic things in common.”
The business community in Lawrence has stepped up to support “Women of Colour,” Blair said, and has encouraged her to look into creating a seasonal publication of inmates’ writings. In addition to the Raven Bookstore’s selling of the publication, the printing of the initial 200 copies of the publication was donated by Copy Co., 1401 W. 23rd St. The creative writing class has now also branched out to a weekly class at the Douglas County Juvenile Detention Center.
Blair said that sharing the work of the inmates is vital to foster tolerance and understanding within the community about incarcerated people.
“It’s really important for people to read these for a mutual understanding,” said Blair. “It makes you a little more compassionate.”