The Grateful Felon
Lives of Addiction, Crime, Abuse and Redemption
About the Grateful Felon
Hi My name is Rahul Athavale, I started the grateful felon as a thank you of sorts to some amazing men and women who I have met while doing work in the community. I hate to say this but I used to be very closed minded when it came to people who had criminal pasts, I was defiantly not of the opinion that they did their time and now they can come back to society. It took meeting a lot of people in some of the 12 step work I have done and the community service work I have done. In talking to a good friend who works in the jail system I learned about a cottage industry of artwork that comes out of jails. I also know from personal experience that some of the best poets in the world are those who have deep seated pain. I have had some painful and traumatic things happen to me in childhood, I have also had divorce and serious loss. Those are traumas many of us could relate to.
I decided to start a project where we could work with guys who were in jail. Some of them had never written poetry, they had poor English grammar but they had heart. On April 20th 2019 we started the Elmwood Poetry Society. We would send a group of guys in Elmwood correctional facility poetry prompts, and they would create work on a weekly basis and send it back. The project itself was all created and organized by Lita Kurth from DeAnza College, Lita proceeded to organize a variety of people who would give us feedback on the poems. It started as something small, a project I could do so I could give back. This all started well before the horrors of the police brutality with George Floyd or the other horrors we have recently seen.
I was able to connect with men who I would have never before talked to. If I saw them on the street I would have crossed the street, but now I would call them my friends. I have met all of the men from elmwood who were part of the Elmwood Poetry society. The project has now expanded to the San Mateo County Jail system, the San Francisco County jail system and it is starting to take hold in San Quentin.
We are always in desperate need of people who can give feedback on the guys poetry. You don't need to be a poetry expert. In fact we would prefer it if you weren't. We need people who are positive and kind. If you are those two things we would love to have you. Though these men are in jail, it doesn't mean they are inherently bad people. It means they have done bad things and they are now paying the price for those things. Many if not all of the men in the poetry project have had horrific unbelievable trauma, much of it taking place in childhood. This is obviously not an excuse for bad behavior, but it is what they tend to write about. When giving feedback we just ask that it ask lots of questions and stay positive.
These guys feel so grateful to have people on the outside who care enough to take time to give them feedback. Many are children of the system and to get feedback on something as emotional and personal as poetry from "normal" people is a really really big deal! If you want to be part of the social justice movement but have no idea how you can get involved, this is how. Be a harbinger of hope, of compassion and of love. all it takes is giving your kind feedback to guys who can't even look you in the eye because of the amount of shame they have about themselves.
When new pieces come in I will post them here and I will add them to my medium.com account. I look forward to your help and feedback.
A note on safety: Because we are dealing with a jail system it is important that you do not write to your inmate directly. The safety concern is not with the inmates in the group, its with the others in the jail. We vet the guys in the group but there is no lock and key anywhere in jail all mail, addresses and names are public for anyone to see. So please all letters will be emailed to you once we get them at our PO Box, send them to the PO box and we will send them to the inmate. It may seem like it takes longer but in jail guys only have access to mail so it is not a timely process for them.
ALSO THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT REASON: THE JAIL REQUIRES THAT ALL LETTERS COME AND GO TO THE PO Box. IF THEY SEE YOUR ADDRESS THEY CAN KILL THE PROJECT ALL TOGETHER SO PLEASE DON'T JEOPARDIZE THE PROJECT AND SEND LETTERS TO US AND WE WILL SEND THEM TO THE JAIL.