The workshop — a description

Posted: August 30, 2008 in prison, general, The Hero's Journey Workshop

It occurs to me that it might be important sometime early in these posts to take a moment to describe the program I work with at Monroe. My apologies to those of you who think more linearly and would have thought to post this information first.

I met Gloria Kempton (workshop coordinator and faciliator) a few years ago through the Whidbey Island Writers Conference. Somehow in conversation it came up that she was working with prisoners at Monroe. You would think I would remember exactly how we got on the topic since it’s not exactly as common as remarking on the weather, but I don’t. What I do remember is logging the information away. I don’t claim any sort of ESP or anything, but teaching writing inside a prison has always been a dream of mine. One I don’t tell many people about, but a dream none the less. So, I never forgot Gloria and when it came to set up my internship for my graduate program in creative writing I called her up.

Gloria had just started a new program at Monroe called the Hero’s Journey Workshop. Based on work done by Chris Vogler in his book, A Writer’s Journey, and on Joseph Campbell’s mythology work, Gloria was facilitating discussions with prisoners on the stages of the hero’s journey (I’ll post those in brief soon). At the heart of the program is the belief that these men, despite their crimes, can see themselves as the heroes of their own lives.

About the time I called Gloria to see if she had any need for an intern the men in her workshop had begun to ask if they could do start writing based on the discussions in the group.  Perfect timing!

The Hero’s Journey Workshop is now a writing (and hopefully soon also arts) based program, approaching story through the stages of the hero’s journey. It sounds more complicated than it is and I’ll try to be good about providing enough information here to get a good feel for content of the workhop. Anyone who is familiar with Campbell’s work on this subject will know that a hero’s journey is more of an intuitive journey than anything and most of us are living at least one stage of it every day, whether we know it or not.

So, on a given Wednesday night we begin the group by asking a question that everyone will answer. Something like, in one word describe what being human means to you? or in one word describe your “ordinary world”? or describe in a sentence a time when you had to take a leap of faith? After we go around the room gathering answers (which are always honest and surprising) we then move into the discussion of the night’s topic. Gloria brings a set of questions to help the discussion along, but once it is going it usually isn’t a problem to fill the time. These men are smart. Some I would even describe as wise. They’re smart, and they really want to understand this hero’s journey business, so the conversations are often intense and in-depth.

After we discuss the night’s topic we let the men write, asking them to work with their own stories (whatever they might be writing) and incorporate what they took from the night’s conversation. When we come back as a group anyone who wants to share what they wrote is welcome to do so and the rest of us provide encouragement, ask questions and give a little feedback. I’ll have a lot more to say about critiquing prisoner work in upcoming posts. For my fellow MFA students, it’s nothing like having the luxury of telling you everything I think of your piece at once. With these guys the goal is to keep them writing, even if it means only finding things to praise in piece.

We usually ask the men to work on expanding their story one scene at a time between our time with them. For any of them that do, I offer to take home a few pages of their work and provide them written feedback. This has been one of the most rewarding experiences of the internship so far for me (more on that later as well…sorry, otherwise this will get way too long). 

So that’s the typical evening. We start at six, or whenever the guys arrive (you run on prison-time in a prison, not on your own) and end at about 8:45 when the men have to move back to their cells. Last week we had five! new participants, bringing us to about fifteen prisoners. Word seems to be spreading through the unit that ours is a group to attend, and given that we offer them no certificate or other reward for showing up, it’s pretty encouraging for us volunteers as well.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s