The event got an enormous response. I'm glad I got there early, because so many people turned out, the library staff had to scramble to set out more chairs. Boxes of tissue were also needed, as the audience wept along with several of the poets. I think it's safe to say that everyone in the audience felt nothing but admiration for these men who were both brave and generous enough to share their work with us.
Inmate awaiting his turn at the mike.
I have said before that writing is the most democratic art form because anyone can do it. Language is accessible to everyone, everywhere, in some form or another. But in addition to being democratic, writing is also one of the most therapeutic art forms. Nothing makes you feel more cleansed than pouring all your sorrows, all your pain, all your fear, doubt and anger, onto the page. Nothing helps you untangle your feelings like writing them out. It's easy to see how writing can fulfill such an enormous need for inmates.
The program has already produced two anthologies called Open to the Sky, edited by Arlin Buyert. I purchased the first volume. Naturally, the poetry focuses on life in prison, which means it deals with some pretty dark stuff: isolation, rape, bigotry, and violence. But it also explores universal themes of family, religion, society, love, and the myriad subtle intricacies that make up our inner lives.
Lansing poets with their mentor and editor, Arlin Buyert
The poets in the anthology are credited by first name only, or simply, "Anonymous." One of the poems that I found most moving was entitled, "Shackled Dreams," by William:
We convince ourselves that
we can never achieve those
things we dreamed in youth,
So we forge small failures
into heavy chains and we
wear these shackles as proof.
I wasn't able to find purchase links for the poetry anthologies, but I'm sure if you contact AiP here, or Arlin Buyert through his website, they can hook you up. In addition to writing and literature, AiP offers music, visual art, theater and public speaking, and yoga courses. They're always looking for donations of books, musical instruments, art supplies-- and, of course, volunteers.
I have heard it said that prisoners' rights is the next big social justice movement, with the US having the highest incarceration rate in the world. I hope that with more programs like AiP, we can start dismantling these institutions from the inside.