Voices Beyond Bars

Through the our Voices Beyond Bars (VBB) program, Old Growth Northwest has conducted writing workshops at Monroe Correctional Complex in Monroe, Washington since 2013. In partnership with University Beyond Bars, Old Growth instructors teach introductory and advanced creative writing workshops rooted in principles related to Restorative Justice (see below).

Submit work to a new anthology: Writing for Restoration

Course Description

Students explore the creative process firsthand, crafting and refining pieces of their own writing throughout the semester. The course is administered through an interactive group workshop format: students will not only read, reflect, and comment on the work of their peers but will also become comfortable with reading and presenting their work to others. In addition to workshop discussions, students will strengthen their critical analysis skills by reading and dissecting sample texts in various media, including poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction.

Throughout each workshop, moderated conversations will involve the use of Critical Theory – an examination of social issues by contextualizing them politically, socially, historically, and culturally. Students will draw these issues from the narratives contained within assigned readings as well as from their own experiences, perspectives, and concerns. The course will approach various concepts such as character development, conflict resolution, point of view, dialogue, and denouement by leveraging skill development around empathy, cultural competence, identity, and nonviolent communication.

Winter/Spring 2016 Instructors

Alex Osuch is a writer, teacher, and musician based in Seattle, Washington. His work is primarily concerned with the intersection of text, context, and the experience of truth through craft. He is one of the co-founders of Old Growth Northwest and creator of the Reading and Open Mic Series.

Susan Rees earned a BA in English from the University of Texas in 2006.  She is the Deputy Director at Gay City, where she co-founded the Smudgy Notebook writing workshop series, the annual Wordplay Spoken Word Festival, and was the Editor of the sixth volume of the Gay City Anthology: UpClosePersonal. 

“Tearing Down the House of Gemini” by Steve Bartholomew. Read by Katherin Hervey (Raw Love Productions) for Old Growth Northwest.

 Spencer, a Voices Beyond Bars student, speaks at TEDx:

What is Restorative Justice?

Restorative justice evokes the idea that relationships and individuals must be brought back into balance for true healing to take place. This system focuses on harm and suffering that comes as a result of conflict, but it also places great emphasis on understanding the root causes associated with a harmful action. Examining harm and cause requires community engagement and the consideration that all those affected should be engaged in finding restorative solutions.

In our workshop, we study concepts such as community, accountability, and cultural competence by discussing academic and creative texts. We practice skills such as empathy, compassion, and nonviolent communication through the creative response to prompts such as “Write about a time when you felt anger” or “Write a letter in which you forgive someone for hurting you”. Through restorative circles, we examine our writing and ourselves to seek out strategies for strengthening relationships, resolving conflict, and restoring balance.

Special Thanks to University Beyond Bars

University Beyond BarsFounded in 2005, University Beyond Bars was the first program to offer college instruction at Washington State Reformatory after the legislature prohibited public funding of prison college programs in 1995. Today, UBB offers higher education and enrichment programming to over 160 prisoners at Washington State Reformatory and the Minimum Security Unit, both at Monroe Correctional Complex.

For more information about this program, please email info@oldgrowthnw.org.