Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Inside Girl -- Eve

I’m going to jail. And I couldn’t be more excited.

I’ve always been fascinated by jails and prison culture. And I know I’m not alone. C’mon, who among us wasn’t mesmerized by Escape From Alcatraz, The Green Mile, and Midnight Express? I watch prison documentaries, the MSNBC San Quentin Lockdown specials, and bug my Public Defender sister every day for stories of her jail visits.

I read Mark Salzman’s True Notebooks a few years back and was blown away by how real and sad and funny and inspiring and haunting it was. The book is Mr. Salzman’s nonfiction masterpiece about his time teaching writing to HROs (high-risk offenders), the most brutal juveniles in the Los Angeles penal system, who are mostly charged with rape, murder, and armed robbery. At the time (1997), InsideOUT Writers was a small project, the brainchild of Sister Janet Harris, a chaplain dedicated to creating an avenue for the incarcerated to “express themselves and feel that they are listened to.” The organization has grown, now features over 30 classes a week in the three main L.A. juvenile detention facilities, and boasts a stellar lineup of teachers, including prolific authors, award winning screenwriters, producers, and professors.


There’s something so sad yet intriguing about the idea that thousands of lost souls are currently locked up in cages, shackled like animals. It’s especially shocking to think about kids shut away in these places with little food, freezing concrete rooms, and no toothbrushes or soap or other human comforts. Back in college, my roommates and I worked for the UCLA Prison Coalition, an innovative program using college students as tutors in the L.A. juvenile detention system. Fa-scin-a-ting. Amazing kids. Amazing stories. So much talent. So much heartbreak. So much misguided energy and anger. The kids I worked with at Camp Kilpatrick (Gridiron Gang was a movie about this same prison camp, starring The Rock…Hi, Dwayne!) were respectful, sweet, and funny. Most importantly, they wanted desperately to learn. Anything. Everything. How to read. How to write. How to measure the universe.

Though I gripe about still being pre-published, I realize I could have worse problems. And during this long, bumpy journey, I’ve learned a ton. I feel excited and privileged to have this opportunity to teach what I’ve learned to these kids. These forgotten kids who have very little to look forward to. I’m not delusional enough to believe that I’ll change the world, or change anything for that matter. But, if in my tenure even one kid feels excited about writing, feels listened to, or feels a sense of pride in his work, then my trip on this writing road hasn’t been for nothing.

- Eve


laurasalas said...

Great post, Eve. And I think you change someone (yourself, too) every time you visit. It might not be a ginormous visible change, but over time...

Katie said...

Eve - this is so exciting! What are you gonna teach?

Colorado Writer said...

Sounds very cool. Rock on!

Barrie said...

Very interesting. I hope you blog about this more. :)

SilberBook-Blog said...

What a wonderful gift for the kids....and you. I'm sure the experience will seep into your skin in ways you don't even know yet.

Can't wait to read about the journey.

Brooke Taylor said...

Wow, very cool stuff. I'm fascinated by prison culture, too. Let us know how it goes :-)

Disco Mermaids said...

Oh, I have no doubt that the experience will change me much more than them.

If you guys get a chance to check out the InsideOut Writers site, it's pretty cool. The success rates for the kids who take these writing classes is pretty astounding.

The percentage of those returning to 'the system' after participating in the program and being released is much lower than for those who don't take the classes. Which tells me that the writing classes are certainly giving them something positive to cling to.

That's proof enough for me.

Thanks for the support! (Most people I share this news with think I'm a nut case for taking this on. That why I love writers so much!)


MM said...

This is amazing. You will be changing someone's life

David said...

Eve - Good luck with this. If more people dedicated themselves to these kids before they got mixed up in whatever sad circumstances led them to Juvi Hall, maybe they wouldn't be there. I'm sure you'll make a difference and help the kids to refocus their energies.

Yee-Lum said...

Only if being awesome equates to nutcase.

Wow. Wow, Eve! This is really cool. I'm glad you've found a way that you can be such a great help to kids who need it. Be sure to keep us posted.

Huh. The pen is mightier than the sword after all.

(Famously Long-Post Yee-Lum wrote another short comment?!)

Disco Mermaids said...

Thanks for the encouragement, MM, David, and Yee-Lum!

I'll keep everybody posted on how it goes. I start in May. VERY excited! Although, truth be told, I'm always humbled by how intelligent teens are, and sometimes I worry that they'll quickly discover how stupid I am.

And, David, I totally agree with you. I guess if these kids had more resources before they got into trouble you wouldn't have to lock them up in the first place, Mr. Prosecutor. But I realize you have a job to do! Then again, if they never got into trouble, you'd be out of a job. And you could become a writer/slacker with me. That'd be fun!