Like many people, I spent about 15 months at home during the pandemic. But my words have traveled widely.
I learned about Prisoner Express from my Cornell junior. But I didn’t really think much about the program, since I was busy in my own lane. Two things changed that. One, the much loved founder of Amherst Writers & Artists died last year. Pat Schneider and her book Writing Alone and With Others taught me a lot about the power of writing as healing, and about empowering marginalized voices. Then I was asked if I would be interested in donating copies of my chapbook to PE.
I didn’t think there would be a lot of interest, frankly. I wrote a memoir in poetry Did You Know? that won an international contest. It was a very personal story, and it took me many years to tell it. But as I was home in the quiet of our pandemic world, I thought about people living incarcerated all over the country. And about how what we have in common, what we share as people, could make this an incredible experience. We sent out a feeler in a newsletter and received over 300 responses. So we sent out copies of my book with a chapbook assignment late last fall.
Responses came in almost immediately. The prisoners sent notes about my book, and submitted their own chapbooks. I am impressed at the quality of the writing but more so in the breadth and bravery of their stories. As Pat Schneider would say, a writer is someone who writes. The writers who responded to our prompts all have something to say.
I have been reading and commenting on each chapbook. Over the next few weeks and months I will share some selected poems on this blog. I will also be reading some of their poems around New England at various venues. I’m so glad I took on this project with PE.