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How to use
this curriculum

Pathways to an Empathy-Based Approach

We believe that writing at its best can conquer oppression.  It can change hearts and minds, and even policy.  But this doesn’t happen by magic.

There is an art to storytelling and to memoir as a genre, and specifically to writing in community, that can lift the voices of people whose life stories have been silenced and unsung, healing and empowering individuals and communities, while paving a pathway to action, rekindling the light that we all hold inside.

We believe that the art of creating empathy in a reading stranger and the art of creating lasting literature are one and the same.

We believe that deep listening and creating one's own narrative are inextricably linked.

When we work behind bars, the need for our words to break free becomes more urgent than ever.  When so much else is taken away, if we can unshackle our stories, we might build a community of listeners.  From prison to prison, from one writer to another, we might build a new body of writings, along with “Conversations that Dare You,” inspired by the writing, that we can pass along.

We ask you to spend a couple of weeks experiencing the stories that accompany Chapter I, Part B on preparing for the workshop, returning to them multiple times as you begin to catalog how to use them in your teaching. 

Videos and audio recordings made by Herstory facilitators will guide you.

We have set up a group of simple exercises following each story that you can download to allow you to record your responses, as you move from preparing to teaching your first workshop. Your answers are only for you. 

You can use your reflections as starting places for future writings. You can use them as crib notes when you return to using these stories in your teaching. Or you can use them to guide individual writers when parallel stories come up.


Along the way you will find many resources, including:


  • Short videos and audios about using the Herstory tools in carceral settings, with corresponding stories to inspire your writing circle.

  • A gallery of stories to draw on whenever you wish. These are stories collected from Herstory’s work behind bars over an 18-year period, and from people in reentry and prison families.

  • Pop up reflection documents that you can download and use for your own preparation and as you conduct the workshops

  • Reading and listening exercises and downloadable worksheets 

  • A crib sheet of essential questions to get writers started

  • A menu for teaching the Page One Moment and planning your first workshop day.

  • A selection of articles about witnessing through Memoir in Carceral settings and working with more serious trauma

We have set up this curriculum so that it can be used with one or two people or with a large group of 25 people or more.


Depending on how and where you create your writing circle, whether it is taking place in person or via zoom, with real life interference and faulty video connections, it may be as formal as mandated by the staff of the prison or jail where you are working, with participants called down every week by the corrections officers, and corrections officers attending every word.  Or it may be completely informal, as you work with people whenever they are able to meet you.

More Content Coming Soon!

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