I was released from state prison in 2015. Before being locked up, I had never done any creative writing. I always told myself I would write (eventually) but I was too afraid to try—too afraid to fail. It took failing in a big way—finding myself a convicted felon, a loser—to make me realize I had nothing to lose.
During the two years I spent incarcerated, I discovered how empowering and liberating the written word can be. I wrote every day, both in my journal and in letters to friends and family. I began to imagine a life that wasn’t necessarily destined for failure and ignominy. Writing gave me back my identity, my pride and sense of self. It allowed me to reclaim my personal narrative from a system that thought it could write my story for me. As someone who spent years being told his voice isn’t worthwhile or important, that his identity is stained, nothing could be more valuable.
After my release, I engaged my local literary community in earnest. Part of this process involved starting an interview series for the Chicago arts magazine Sixty Inches from Center. So far, the series has interviewed only formerly incarcerated artists currently living in Chicago. My awesome project is to expand the scope of the series and begin conducting in-person interviews with artists who are still locked up, both in Chicago and throughout Illinois. (I've found that many inmates don't feel they can speak freely over the phone or by mail, both of which are heavily monitored by the DOC.)
I want to help tell the personal stories of those still subjected to the Prison Industrial Complex, to share their artistic voices with the outside world. I hope that in doing so, I can generate a sense of empathy and inclusion for the millions of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people in our city and across the country.
Funded by Chicago, IL (April 2017)