Q&A with our students

Two of our students have questions. Questions for those of you (us) “free” in the outside world. They want to know things about how you view them, the prison industrial system and life in general. They are curious what questions you have for them and invite you to ask. They’ll give me responses and I’ll post them here. I imagine this as a (delayed) dialogue. I go to the prison twice a month. I will carry in responses and questions from you, the reader, and will carry out and post responses and new questions from my students. We’ll see how it goes.

General guidelines:
Tough questions and responses are okay, as are differing and dissenting opinions, but I’ll insist on respectful and thoughtful words, please.

You can ask about a student’s feelings about incarceration, the prison experience or what he has learned during his sentence, but please do not ask for specifics on the crime committed (it is not fair to victims and it serves no real purpose that I can see).

All questions do not have to relate to prison. Students enjoy and appreciate discussing themes that transcend the prison walls.

I will not share your name or contact information with students and will remove any comments which might allude to your location, specifics about your family, etc. I do this out of practical safety precautions. I trust the men in our group, but do not ever let myself forget how and why they are where they currently are. Likewise, I will not use the full names of our students either.

I reserve the right to amend these guidelines as I go.

  1. Lisa Herbert says:

    I came across your website and found your work most interesting. I wanted to ask you for any pointers for providing women (our prisons call them offenders here in SA) with ideas for creative writing without patronising them or being insensitive to their environment.

    I run an IT company and got into the creative writing side when we launched our first word processing training. We found that once the ladies could use the word processing programme to type, they were so desperate to be able to get their ideas onto paper. However, we have varying levels of literacy and I am concerned that with the ladies who have a higher education, they need to be stimulated with better ideas of what to write about.

    I am not a creative writer myself although I do publish a personal blog and have an interest in writing. That being said, I am in IT as are all my colleagues.

    I have been searching the web for ideas for creative stimulation that won’t hurt my students, and won’t seem as if I want to pry into their lives and their stories in an inquisitive manner. In fact, I offer to let them write in their own languages because often, they just want to write. And I can’t judge their writing skills.

  2. Hi again, Lisa. I will take this question to the students in my group, as well as to my fellow volunteers and see what advice we might have. Though I work with male offenders the concerns you note are pretty universal, I feel. What I have found is that though we are hesitant to seem like we are prying, the students, once trust is established with volunteers, are so eager to just have someone listen to their stories.

    I’ll get back to you with more thoughts.


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