For Incarcerated Citizens
A Mentorship Writing Program
Our book: Scrolls from a Forgotten World:
Prisoners' Writings and Reflections
"This collection is a dazzling testament to the drive and talent of these incarcerated authors, and to the truth that education is the key that sets us free."
Editor, The New York Review of Books
Donations of $20 or more, receive this book as a thank you gift!
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Transforming Lives Was Created To Help Incarcerated Citizens So They Don't Get
Stuck In Prison's Revolving Doors
What We Do:
1. We help people behind walls create their own rehabilitative programs.
2. Assign them a mentor from the outside world so they can get support for writing - as a creative tool, as a necessary educational tool - and as a way to examine what led to becoming incarcerated.
3. Supply notebooks, pens, and educational resources.
4. Prepare incarcerated individuals to go before the Parole Board with their skills and journals when they're ready to be released.
Reaching Inside Out
By Nikki Stern
Four years ago, I came upon an opportunity to serve as a writing mentor to an incarcerated individual by becoming a pen pal. The offer came on Facebook via an established and well-recognized journalist friend. That was smart; it got me to notice. What got me to sign up was the chance to do something positive, to get me outside myself.
My new writing friend is serving time at Green Haven Correctional Facility in Stormville, NY. One year into our correspondence, I visited. We met in a large open space with long tables and chairs separated by low plastic. No, we didn’t talk by phone through glass. I was in the company of maybe two dozen inmates and their visitors, including children. I was by far the oldest there and palest person there.
Our scheduled forty-five minutes turned into three hours because of an unscheduled lockdown which the prison institutes from time to time. I expected to be nervous, and I was, but not for the reasons you might imagine. My guy treated me like royalty. He was easy to talk with. I just wasn’t sure how we could fill three hours.
I needn’t have worried. We chatted easily, mostly about writing, some about his life inside the prison and his family, a little about my experiences as a 9/11 widow. He brought a lot of his work, some of which I scanned. I bought lunch at the vending machines and we ate companionably. And then I left.
Driving home took three hours and I realized how much the visit had drained me. Nothing like a visit to a prison to understand how debilitating (as opposed to rehabilitating) life in prison must be for the inmates.
The program that connected us allows selected inmates to express themselves creatively. Many of them keep journals. Others write short stories. One is working on a novel. My pen pal writes essays, stories, and plays. One of his pieces made it into a book called Scrolls from a Forgotten World: Prisoners’ Writings and Reflections. His play was produced a couple of years back and a segment of it aired on CNN.
Sometimes I edit his work, mostly not. For one thing, he is improving with practice. For another, his work is authentic and from the heart. You can’t teach that, but you can inadvertently stifle it, and that I never want to do.
He takes great pride in his acquaintance with a “real” author. He claims it’s enhanced his status. All I know is I’ve sent him all my books and he’s gotten them all into the prison library. I can’t tell you how much I love that.
There are rules of engagement, limits imposed by the program, by the logistics of his situation, and by my determination not to promise more than I can deliver. Sometimes all I can do is listen. Mostly, I have to believe that’s as helpful as anything else.
We had a fallow period last year. Like most everyone else, we were both accosted by feelings of despair. I came off my sister’s death and went almost directly into COVID lockdown. In my pen pal’s case, lockdown was that much more onerous. Prisons have been hotspots for virus outbreaks. Visitors were restricted and prisoners lived with the very real danger of living in close quarters within an aging structure with questionable ventilation. Our correspondence faltered.
We’re back to communicating. He has a new play he’s excited to send me. I have a book I want to send him. The prison now allows for paid emails, which he says is what most of the inmates use. I suggested we use email for “emergencies” and stick to letters the rest of the time. They allow for a more personal kind of interaction. The more he writes, the better writer he becomes. I only hope the more I write to him, the better human I become.
Nikki Stern is the author of six books. The last two, The Wedding Crasher and Bird in Hand, are part of an award-winning mystery series whose third book, Freeze Before Burning, is due out in early January of 2022. To learn more, please visit nikkistern.com
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One Incarcerated Citizen Explains Why
They Need Mentors From The Outside World
"The most important part of rehabilitation is helping us identify the factors in our lives that formed the seeds of our criminality – so we understand the huge mistakes we made and don't repeat them.
This work involves thinking deeply about what happened in your life and the choices you made. To honestly do that, you need the guidance and support of trusted mentors because many in here want us to stick with our old ways.
Most of us have lost family support, or never really had a family to start with. We feel totally isolated - with no emotional grounding.
Inside, guards and counselors are not interested in helping inmates get into the programs that facilitate this kind of thinking. Why would they? It works against their own interests to keep the prisons full - more overtime.
They know that without rehabilitation, we will make the same mistakes again and return to prison for even longer sentences. According to the National Institute of Justice, within five years of release, about 3/4 of those released were rearrested. Some guards feel as stuck as the prisoners -- why should they help us to prepare for a better life when we get out if they can't?
Transforming Lives was designed by Cynthia Kling, two other prisoners, and myself. We know how hard it it is to ask for help because of how demeaned the system makes us feel and ways for motivated inmates to do this thinking and writing -- and get support while doing it -- with your help. The goal is to develop full productive lives. This is the way we all want to live, with dignity.
incarcerated 20 years ago
for 31 years to life.
Prison: Stories From Those Who've Been There
"Freedom Visits Me" by Hector Rodriguez
Read by Cynthia Kling
No one wants an 80 billion dollar prison system that
keeps people locked up
and doesn't work.
Contact Us Today.