I’ve begun to prep for going up to the prison tomorrow night. I’ve been gone for too long and look forward to catching up with the guys, hearing about their holidays, seeing what they think about the inauguration of President Obama today. I was thinking about how I’d like to bring them something from my MFA residency, something that I learned, something I think might help them. So, I was going back through my pages and pages of notes last night and came across Naomi Shihab Nye’s quote, “Every act of violence is a betrayal of language. We believe in language.”

Nye’s quote is a call to action. Since beginning my work at Monroe (and probably well before that actually) I have been deepening my conviction that art and activism go hand in hand, and Nye reminded me that my goals for myself as a writer are two fold. First, to tell good stories that reveal to readers something about humanity and the human experience they might not have known or considered. Second, well, it’s lofty, but to change the world with words. That’s all. Easy, right?!

As I thought about getting to see the guys tomorrow and I read Nye’s quote again I also started to think about how it applies to them, to men who have already chosen violence at least once in their lives, if not several times. I began to think about how these men were raised by other men and women who chose violence too often and language too little. I began to think about the struggle they face when they are released to not return to violence. It might be too idealistic to hope that part of what I am doing up there is replacing violence with language, but for some of these men I think it is true. I think they will be able to walk out beyond the walls of the prison someday holding onto their stories, stories that if they’d gotten to tell instead of suppress, might have (might have) set them on a different path, and if they clutch those stories hard enough, hang onto their words with all the strength they have, then they can believe in the power of language, as Nye calls us to do.

I’ll bring them Nye’s quote tomorrow evening and hope that a few of them will be as inspired and encouraged as I am each time I read it.


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