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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 that you answer it for yourself in a way that you will be willing to share with writers you work with.


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.

  • 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?

As you embark on this work, it is important to come in with reverence for what can never be equal in carceral settings. To come in with brave vulnerability, and a deep desire to reverse the power paradigm. This will allow you to pave the way for each participant’s power in the endeavor, different but equal to your own. In a place where power is taken away every moment and every day, for months, years and often decades, you must acknowledge with humbleness the difference in your position and role.  

Whether you've taught in carceral settings for years, whether you've formed numerous writing groups of people behind bars out of your desire to share the writing process with others who are experiencing decades of incarceration, whether you are part of a self-created network of fellow prisoners who live by the pen or isolated and just starting out on this journey, it is important to think about which parts of yourself you wish to share.

 As you watch these videos, let yourself daydream about how you will introduce yourself as you start this new journey. 

You will see what a different way each facilitator has. Each person brings in a totally new dimension.

If you are someone who began to write in prison, you might share your own writings. Shamah ShaRize, a formerly incarcerated teacher for Time Out of Joint, will often start a workshop by reading this piece.

Introducing Myself, by Shamah ShaRize

If you are an ally, here are some of the ways you might start.

Introducing Ourselves, by allies and volunteers

Sharing Our Humanity Through the Arts
Margarita Espada

Raise Your Hand / The Racial Injustice We See
Victoria Roberts

How We Are Different, How We Are The Same /
What We Can Accomplish Together

Chad Seader

Wrongful Convictions / Why I Never Practiced Law
Shahrzad Sajadi

When you have experienced them all, download and print the first reflection using the form below.

Reflection #1

Introducing Myself / What Brings Me to This Work

We have set up this reflection document in an expandable, downloadable format which you can save to your computer or print.  We suggest that you set up a special “Reflection Portfolio” folder for this, whether digital or in hard copy.

Remember these documents are only for you, or, if you are working with a partner or team, to be shared as you wish.  No one else will ever see them, so feel free to write in fragments or bullet points, to free write over days or even weeks or years, or to shape them into something you want to publish or share with a wider audience someday.

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