WRITING BEYOND THE PRISON

DOING TIME ON THE OUTSIDE

We are happy to announce two new grant funded projects in partnership with the Humanities Institute at Stony Brook University. 

We entered 2022 with the roll out of two interconnected projects in the carceral justice arena, building on a long-standing relationship with Prison Families Anonymous and a decade and a half of working in Long Island’s three jails, where hundreds of writers each year have used our empathy-based tool kit to create a powerful literature that over a decade and a half has influenced judges, policy makers and prison guards in life-changing ways.

Doing our Time on the Outside, Prison Family and Reentry Voices for a Change, a project funded by Humanities NY, takes its title from a groundbreaking book by Barbara Allan, founder of Prison Families Anonymous, written in a Herstory workshop that brought together high school students with parents in prison, law students and criminal justice system reformers. While Barbara was writing her book, charting the building of a movement to support prison families, the young people writing by her side created All I ever wanted/ Stories of Children of the Incarcerated (with over 2000 copies circulated since its publication in 2015). Together the books tell the story of the heartbreaking separations, stigmatization and lack of opportunity that follow those marked by the carceral system, even as they shed light on the longings and dreams of the incarcerated and their families in a way that no reader can ever forget.

 

In partnership with Prison Families Anonymous, the Humanities Institute at Stony Brook University and the Criminology Program at Hofstra University, Herstory workshop facilitators Victoria Roberts and Shahrzad Sajadi hit the ground running with an online campus community workshop that brought together people who have had a loved one in prison or jail, people coming out of prison themselves, and the graduate and undergraduate students who will be the decision- and opinion-makers of the future to write together side by side.  

As we move into the summer season, we are launching a local and national Summer Story Gathering Initiative: Complementing the semester-long workshop, this initiative aims to gather 50-100 stories to foster understanding and inspire change. Guest facilitators will offer onsite single-session 2-3 -hour retreats designed to generate finished stories to be used in advocacy projects developed by the spring semester cohort.  In an intimate small-group setting, three to five participants will come together with the goal that each member will complete a short piece by the end the meeting to donate to the cause. Participating organizations will target people whose stories will help their advocacy efforts relating to carceral impacts and reintegration.  This work will be conducted both in person and online according to the public health needs of the time.  A full cohort of Herstory facilitators and facilitators-in-training will offer a total of 30 story shaping retreats between the beginning of May and the end of August. 

August to December 2022: The last trimester of the grant year will be devoted to producing podcasts, web postings, public presentations and an online anthology featuring stories produced by the campus/community cohort and the 100 Stories Initiative.  Participants will be equally involved in every aspect of decision-making as to how the stories will be used in the world, whether in online publications, podcasts, public presentations, presentations to legislators and educational communities.  

The grant year will culminate in a daylong conference sponsored by the Humanities Institute at Stony Brook University and the Criminology Program of Hofstra University, hosted by the Humanities Institute at Stony Brook, in which scholarly and activist presentations will be interwoven with readings of the stories produced.    

We will enter 2023 poised to expand on the project, while creating an ongoing podcast series and a folio edition of stories and scholarly writings to be widely studied and used as a basis for advocacy work.

We are also thrilled to announce our participation in “Writing Beyond the Prison,” a project coordinated by our partners at the Humanities Institute at Stony Brook University and supported by a “Sustaining Public Engagement Grant,” awarded by the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).  This interdisciplinary public humanities project will engage SBU faculty and graduate students from Africana Studies, English and History in working with Herstory and the United Black Family Scholarship Foundation, to bring the voices of those most directly impacted by the carceral system into the public conversation.  We will create a publicly accessible, web-based Living Archive to publish and preserve the writings of people within the carceral ecosystem as a rich public history research and curriculum-building initiative.

The grant will allow us to reengage the facilitators who were working behind bars when the pandemic struck to join with our local and national fellows in developing curricula/guides to sustain incarcerated writers and to bring writings from the Living Archive into schools, community programs, and training for social service and law enforcement agencies. 

 

In addition to helping those whom society has silenced to create their own powerful testimonial literature, our focus on dissemination—not only of this carceral literature but also of our pedagogical tools--will nurture new writers, speakers, community organizers and leaders. We will also create an ongoing public history digital archive that makes these narrative available for use by future humanities scholars, activists, and policy makers. Our project will have an immediate impact on democratic practice and racial inequality in America, while working toward reshaping the “carceral ecosystem” by amplifying the voices of the incarcerated and their families.  

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