Writing at Rikers

NYWC Program Director Deborah Clearman leads a workshop for women at the Rose M. Singer facility on Rikers Island.

I’ve been leading creative writing workshops for women in jail on Rikers Island for nearly a year. The largest penal colony in the world, Rikers is a bleak and eerie place, so cut off from everything that’s normal. Every week the women come into my workshop full of pent up emotion–anger, remorse, yearning, resolve–that all I have to do is hand them a stub of a pencil and a paper, and the stories spill out of them. Love poems, diatribes, prayers to God, odes to ordinary life. They break my heart.

This article in the New Yorker riveted me. Why are so many people in prison in the US? Has the explosion of our prison population led to a drop in crime? Or is:

The scale and the brutality of our prisons … the moral scandal of American life?