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Chapters of our Lives

Chapter I
Before the Workshop

Chapter II
Let the Workshop Unfold

Chapter III
Stories in Evolution

Chapter IV
The Light on the Opposite Shore


Unit One / Lesson One

Introducing Yourself

What brings you to do this work?

Thinking about the carcereal context and your position around it

If your words had the power to create a true change, what is the change that you personally would like to see?

This is the question that you will be asking each new participant in your writing circle. In order to prepare for the work ahead, we ask you answer it for yourself in a way that you will be willing to share.


Although none of us can know how we will feel when we meet a group for the first time, and the reality of who the people are, it will be good to reflect on what you would like to share about what is bringing you to do this work.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Have you been directly impacted?

  • Was a close friend or family member impacted?

  • How did that change your life?

  • Or are you an ally for another reason?

  • Are you currently living behind bars?

  • Are you an officer or prison counselor looking for another way?

  • Have you been working with prison populations for years, but never done a writing workshop?

  • Are you working on the outside in probation or parole?

  • Are you already leading groups of prison families as someone who

  • has been directly impacted?

  • Or are you coming from a university or community partnership setting?

Incarceration Context

Too often when someone is in jail, the first question that comes up is “What did that person do?” It comes up before that person is allowed a face or a voice or a story that is her own creation. In the case of women especially—and beyond this for those coming from backgrounds of poverty, violence, and discrimination—we must train ourselves to reframe our questions, thinking from the onset “What happened to them Who are they, and what can they teach us?”

What would happen if we were to make a commitment to linger until the story of each incarcerated person found its rightful space—resisting all temptations to rush toward resolutions, wisdom or repentance that might not yet (or ever) be part of her truth—what might we be able to learn from the process? What would happen if we were to welcome with wide open arms, not the stories we might wish for, but those that come out when we give the permission to drop all pretending? Could this make a difference, not only to those who find healing in bringing their past selves back to life on the page, but to a society that doesn’t know what to do with its own violence and pain?

Too often when someone is locked behind bars, they are judged by the courts, by society, by us. We’ve already figured they’re guilty. Once a person is allowed the space to voice their story, they become real. They show us who they are.

Once they tell their story, we get to see the person. We get to hear their voice, and it makes a difference.

We’ve designed this curriculum to be used for people who are currently incarcerated, and for those who were formerly incarcerated, along with prison family members.

Before you proceed with this online training we ask you to watch these six 2-4 minute videos in order to help you create a self portrait in answer to these questions.

Videos andAudio Bonuses

As you watch these five videos and one audio recording, let yourself daydream about how you will introduce yourself on your very first workshop. 


You will see what a different way each facilitator has. There is no correct way. When you have experienced them all, click here to download and print the first reflection using the form below.

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