My students hearts, souls and spirits long to speak, to have a voice and a quiet place, a chance to express their often unexpressed and unknown selves in poetry and prose. Sometimes, my fellow prisoners are not aware of this fact, until they are sitting in class writing. This is what happened to me decades ago at San Quentin when I trusted my gut and signed up for a poetry class.
I open my class with silent writing. This silent writing is a form of free expression on any subject. The silent period can last 20 to 50 minutes, depending on the flow of the pens on paper. Amazing prose and poetry can come from this process. Such a space to create as a group and as individuals is a rare and appreciated thing in prison.
Being a poet, a teaching artist in prison, I know the importance of this space and place to stay human, and for my students to share their own realness with their own voice. This writing offers the students a safe and cool place to bring down their masks and be human and real, and allow that what connects them to all human beings anywhere, to come out in an art form.
People not in prison would be shocked at how open, human and real these souls, hearts and spirits become to the arts when suffering or flowing through a prison existence. The arts can save you and sustain you through decades of hardness and inhumanity.
The writing helps to cope with and even prevent many tragedies, and can often create a reservoir of peace, hope and forgiveness. The power of the arts can open some up to feeling and caring again - to being human again. Perhaps, a state lost since childhood. The endless depths of that childlike love, creativity and realness.
© Spoon Jackson
Published in the SJRA Advocate June 2011. Reprinted with permission of Barbara Brooks, SJRA Advocate monthly prison newsletter available free at www.sjra1.com