The Prison Poetry Project
Welcome to the Grateful Felon Poetry Project. This project was started in Elmwood Correctional facility 18 months ago. It was originally created as a way for me to be of service to guy's in jail as part of my 12th step work in Al-Anon. I was teaching guys how to read and write while helping them pass their GED tests. I thought poetry could be a good way to work on the reading, and quickly after the group started I learned that something much more powerful than basic education was available. My dear friend Lita Kurth, a Professor at DeAnza Community college was the impetus to get us going. She started supporting the group with weekly lesson plans and a group of people in the real world who would give the guys feedback. Everyone in the group will be eternally grateful for all the work Lita did in helping launch and support this project.
Jail is an incredibly racist, dangerous, and violent place. Being emotional, intelligent, educated, or doing anything that is not thug like or "criminal" is not only looked down upon but it can be dangerous. I knew all of that when I decided to start a poetry group.
I used to hold myself as better than the people who were in that place, and it was through the poetry that I learned we are all have deep pain and poetry is a powerful way for us to express deep pain and emotions that we have locked inside of us. It started as a 5 person group in a unit of 75 men M3D one of Elmwood's dorms. M3D is a program dorm meaning it was a drug and alcohol education program. What it turned into was something that has so deeply touched my heart and soul.
It was beautiful to see these guys who had never written poetry in their lives throw themselves into poetry. The way the group was set up was we worked with a professor at DeAnza college who sent us monthly prompts. We would write weekly, send the poems in our terrible handwriting to Lita our professor and she would give us feedback and send the poems back to us.
Here is what is valuable to know and why I really want you to get involved. When the guys got feedback on their poems from people in a world which they have never engaged in, they were so deeply touched it brought tears to me eyes and warmth to my heart. Here are guys who have spent most of their lives operating in a world that is wrought with pain, addiction and crime. They have always believed that the upper middle class would look at them as nothing other than trash. In the 18 months I was in jail I saw some of the worst in humanity. In working with these men in the poetry group I got to see beauty in the people who have lived in darkness, and I got watch men blossom in ways they or I would have never expected.
How can you get involved?
1. We need feedback givers for the guys poetry. That was the hardest part of the project. We can currently only handle the poetry from 9 guys and have a waiting list of 200 guys who want to be part of the project. If you can give a few lines of positive feedback on a guys poem two to four times a month that would be awesome!
2. If you are a member of law enforcement we would love to have you involved. We have found that poetry is a way to build a bridge between those behind the walls and law enforcement. You can give feedback anonymously and we would love to work with you.
3. If you don't have time to do that you can donate, we try to put money on guys books for stamps, pencils, envelopes and pencils. Unfortunately that stuff is expensive in jail.
Here is a Link to our Gofundme page
4. You can leave uplifting comments on the poems that you read below. Please go to the page with prisoners poetry and you can leave comments on the poetry, you can leave your name or leave it anonymously and we will send those comments to the guys in jail.