Behind the Walls

By Marc Barrington, Writing Instructor at Monroe Correctional Complex and Publisher of Zek: An American Prison Story

I started Gabalfa Press in 2014. Gabalfa is the name of the council housing estate where my mum grew up in Wales—think “the projects” but with a Welsh accent. In Welsh, Gabalfa translates into “place to meet the ferry”, as it was once a crossing point over the river Taff. I like to think Gabalfa is a fitting name because, just as ferries transport passengers, books transport readers.

And it is especially fitting of our first title by five-time PEN award winning writer, Arthur Longworth. For Art’s book, Zek: An American Prison Story, truly transports its readers. Zek takes its readers behind the walls of an eastern Washington state prison in Walla Walla. And it’s there that readers spend one harrowing day with the central protagonist, Jonny, as he navigates 21st century prison life.

Zek is the result of a chance encounter, if such things are possible in prison. It was my first semester volunteer-teaching a preparatory college English class at the Washington State Reformatory in Monroe. Art was my TA. And I was lucky to have him. Lucky because Art exudes a calm and a light I found helpful as I acclimated to teaching on the “inside”. And lucky because Art helped me understand some of the social dynamics at play in my classroom to which I wouldn’t have otherwise have been attuned.

Many mornings before my students arrived, Art and I would discuss books. Art is a reader after my own heart, and we share a number of the same favorites. Even where our tastes differ, though, I always took note of what Art had to say because I was assured a careful, thoughtful response. And so it came to pass. At one point Art volunteered, “I’ve got something. If you’d like to read it.”

The following week, I carried out of prison Art’s only copy of what was then called Day 3, 652. It was much later that night when I finished reading Art’s narrative that I set his manuscript down, determined to see the story to publication. Gabalfa existed only in name at that point—I had intended it for my own writing. And to publish Art’s story might threaten the teaching gig I’d grown to value. I was conflicted.

An agent and three of the “Big 5” publishers confirmed what I already knew, though: Zek is an important novel about the 21st century criminal justice system in America. For as Art describes in Zek, prison is “the womb inside which [prisoners are] warehoused, then spit back out into a society they no longer know, nor that recognizes them. And “…despite how much her children avow their hatred for her, [is] a mother who nurtures them in a manner that compels them to return.”

New York passed on Zek. As important as they thought it was, one publisher stated that Zek would be “too difficult to market”.

Zek’s publication is a matter of equity, though, of giving voice to someone who was state-raised, imprisoned at a young age, and who never had a voice. Art eventually found his voice. And it is a matter of social justice that Art’s voice be heard, for Art speaks not only for himself in Zek, but for the over 2 million other people incarcerated in the United States.

Please join Gabalfa Press and Old Growth Northwest for the book release of Zek: An American Prison Story on Tuesday, October 25, from 7-8pm at Third Place Books Seward Park. You’ll get to meet Marc and hear readings from Dolphy Jordan and UW Professor, Steve Herbert.

RSVP on Facebook.

Four Things I Learned

By Susan Rees, VBB Writing Instructor

Four things I learned while teaching Creative Writing through Restorative Justice at the Monroe Men’s Prison:

  1. Be careful what you ask for, you will probably be taken very literally. When I was introducing myself on the first day of class, I told the students they could call me anything respectful. Like say, Captain. The students then proceeded to call me Captain for the next eight weeks.
  2. The students wanted to learn. They told me that withholding criticism would not be sparing their feelings, it would be patronizing, and were thrilled when I handed back assignments covered in red ink. Their eagerness to gain knowledge and improve their writing was inspiring.
  3. Dreams are contagious. Humans can remain positive under any circumstance – the students had more hope and were more optimistic than most of the people I know on the outside. They were constantly talking about their goals and aspirations for when they got out and how they wanted to live better lives. It made me want to live a better life.
  4. Capacity for human kindness is endless. Given a space to express themselves, the students got very vulnerable and very real in their writing. They were fearless and encouraged each other to be fearless. They were so supportive of each other; I think they learned more from each other than they did from me. I am certain I learned more from them than they did from me.

Register Now for Spring Workshops

Register Here! This spring, choose from five workshops:

Creative Writing 101
Tuition: $30
Tuesdays, 7-8pm, 4/19 – 6/21 (Skipping 5/24 & 5/31)
Facilitator: Allison Cloud
Location: Café Allegro, University District

The Art of Surprising Yourself as a Writer
Tuition: FREE
Wednesdays, 2-3:30pm, 4/20 – 6/15
Facilitator: Theresa Barker
Location: Merrill Gardens, Ravenna

Poetry Brew
Tuition: $30
Wednesdays, 7-8pm, 4/20 – 6/8
Facilitator: Benjamin Schmitt
Location: Café Allegro, University District

Poetry in the Morning
Tuition: FREE
Friday, 10am-12pm, 5/13 – 7/1
Facilitator: Benjamin Schmitt
Location: The Hub at Bayview, Queen Anne

Writing for Restoration
Tuition: $30
Saturday, 1-4pm, 4/23
Facilitator: Erin Fried
Location: Victrola Cafe on 15th, Capitol Hill

Thank You!


Dear Friends,

We had such a great time with all of you on Saturday and were thrilled to have 135 people in attendance.

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Because of your support, we were able to raise close to $11,000 – just $4,000 away from our financial goal of $15,000. We are so grateful to everyone who contributed and braved the rain to share their passion for the raising of stories too often left untold.

If you missed the event, you can still make a tax-deductible donation through the end of the year to help us reach our goal of $15,000.

Please Click here to donate via PayPal or Credit/Debit Card.

If you want to get involved in other ways, submissions for Old Growth Northwest’s Writing for Restoration anthology will be accepted until June 30, 2016. This is a great opportunity to join the voices of people in prison and expand the conversation on mass incarceration in the United States. Learn more here.

In the meantime, please share “The Prison Within” Documentary’s Sizzle Reel, below. Together we can be change-makers!


The Prison Within” & Old Growth Northwest

Co-fundraiser for Voices Beyond Bars and The Prison Within

Stories from the Inside

Purchase Tickets Now

Saturday, December 12th, 4:30-7:30pm
Hillman City Collaboratory
5623 Rainier Ave S.
Seattle, WA, 98118

A co-fundraiser for The Prison Within Documentary and Old Growth Northwest’s “Voices Beyond Bars” writing program and Restorative Justice Anthology. All proceeds will go directly to the editing costs of the documentary, the publication costs of the anthology, and sustaining the writing program inside the Monroe Correctional Complex in Monroe, WA. Learn more about the anthology here.

YOUR FINANCIAL CONTRIBUTION MATTERS: Stories connect us and are effective instruments for social change. These projects require your financial support to bring the experiences of those most impacted by the criminal justice system – those who are currently incarcerated, their families and their communities – to a national audience.


New! Guest Speaker Aaron Borrero – Recently granted clemency by Governor Inslee after almost two decades of incarceration on a disproportionate sentence
Readings of student work
An Exclusive Interactive Preview
Artwork & Silent Auction
Beer & Wine

Entry Fee : $20
Suggested Donation : $150 or a meaningful amount
Can’t attend? You can still make a donation! Click here to donate via Paypal or Credit/Debit Card  – All donations are tax deductible.

Fall Workshop Registration is Open!

Early registration has been extended until October 16 – register now for a lower rate.

Register Here! This fall, choose from four workshops:

NaNoWriMo - Join the Waitlist
Mondays, 7-8pm, 10/19 – 12/14 (Skipping 11/23)
with Kristina Horner at Chocolati (Phinney Ridge)

FREE Community Workshop
Tuesdays, 7-8pm, 10/20 – 12/15 (Skipping 11/24)
with Allison Cloud at Allegro Cafe (University District)

Poetry Brew
Wednesdays, 7-8pm, 10/21 – 12/16 (Skipping 11/25)
with Benjamin Schmitt at the Collaboratory (Hillman City)

Writing for Restoration
Saturday, 1-5pm, 10/24
with Erin Fried at the Collaboraty (Hillman City)

GRNW 2015 Conference

The 2015 Gay Romance Northwest Meet-up conference is only a few weeks away! On Saturday, Sept. 26, Old Growth Northwest will host the only LGBTQ romance fiction conference in the Pacific Northwest, at the Seattle Central Public Library! To register go to Brown Paper Tickets. Find out more info at the Gay Romance Northwest Meet-Up page. And check out our saucy pre-conference events Friday, Sept. 25th on the GRNW facebook events page.