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Before you begin your workshop

You will want to have a well-packed "suitcase" of stories by other people affected by the carceral ecosystem to help the participants in your writing circle to think about how each writer is creating empathy in an imaginary Stranger/Reader. Using these stories to build an understanding of narrative structure will be your most important tool during the weeks when the participants haven't yet begun to write their own stories.


The mission of writing a story that will stir reader empathy from the very first page is one that will come as a surprise to most people who are joining a writing circle, especially if their lives and their actions have been harshly judged and their versions of their own experiences have been silenced.

The parallel mission of constructing a story consciously as a call for understanding and action will be equally unexpected, and therefore, we have found over the course of several decades, refreshing and empowering.

We have selected from our library of writings from behind and beyond bars two dozen or so stories that we have frequently used to move people who don't necessarily want to write to begin to shape stories that will help other people to care and take action.

Therefore, we ask you to take several weeks to read each of these stories, not only for content but to begin to think about the elements in the way they are structured that make them particularly effective in helping even a hard-hearted corrections officer, legislator, judge, or voter to rethink the policies and practices around carceral justice.

As you read through these stories, we invite you to pick out five to ten stories that speak especially to you, as you think more deeply about why you are doing this work.

We will be returning to these stories multiple times as you begin to catalog how to use them in your teaching.

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