Sunday, December 05, 2010


This is the sign that greets visitors to prison. Not exactly inviting, is it.

Yet despite signs and other roadblocks (applying for clearance seems far more difficult than getting a passport), volunteers continue to visit prisons, sometimes for writing workshops.

Last weekend was another of our Writers' Retreats at a local penitentiary. As always, it was a time for useful exchanges about work we'd prepared in advance. And because writing prompts are always an important element of these weekends, there was also a lot of new work generated.

Some of the more speculative start-ups prompted humour as well as thoughtful replies. A few of the responses to the what-really-happened scene behind Obama's stitches could have fit right in with the latest round of WikiLeaks.

Other writings were far more personal -- the kind that only come about in an atmosphere of trust. One man revealed a story that seemed to surprise even himself. After he read it, he offered in a shaking voice that he had never expressed those thoughts to anyone.

Another was seeking ways to write about a traumatic experience he wanted to get down in words, but wasn't yet able to -- the first strip-search he'd experienced. Some of the difficulty became even clearer when he told us that this had occurred when he was only twelve.

Those of us 'outsiders' didn't have as much hardship to share, but when we wrote about 'why we don't write', the excuses sounded the same, whether from inmates or 'outmates'. Everything from needing to watch a show on tv to the universal excuse, the L-word, laziness.

Today is International Volunteer Day -- a day that recognizes the efforts of the many, many people who do things they don't get paid for, but things that make a difference to their communities. They're the people who run Scout troops and arts events and food banks and baby clinics.

If you'd like to read an article about one kind of volunteer, those who go into prisons, click here for an article by Ed Griffin. Ed's a longtime prison volunteer and teacher. His article appears on a prisoner-based website called The Incarcerated Inkwell. The site contains a great deal of information, even a glossary of prison jargon. It also accepts guest articles for publication.

What do you take time to do for your community?

No comments: