By Susan Rees, VBB Writing Instructor
Four things I learned while teaching Creative Writing through Restorative Justice at the Monroe Men’s Prison:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.