As Jimmy Santiago Baca has shown us through his memoir and his life, living in prison can take a toll on your mind and morale. The act of writing poetry, or writing creatively in general, is an effective tool in fighting insanity, [figuratively] escaping confinement, and coming to terms with what you’ve done, where you are, or some combination of the two. In our time of mass incarceration, where not all those behind bars are there for violent offenses, writing had become a tool to express frustration with the system, with each other, and with themselves. The Albuquerque-based program NoWrong, JustWrite, is a non-profit organization that goes into prisons and youth detention centers to conduct poetry and writing workshops with those incarcerated there. The program was created and is facilitated by Albuquerque poet Carlos Contreras and artist and educator, Diahndra Grill.
JustWrite’s mission states:
“While focusing on underserved communities…and those who are incarcerated, JustWrite empowers, heals, enlightens, and engages the minds and hearts of multiple populations simultaneously. JustWrite fosters an ability to make better decisions and live more positively via a self-reflective process through creative expression” (x).
The organization’s vision emphasizes that the project attempts to show that “There is no wrong, JustWrite!” The project aims to encourage people of all different communities to “just write.” A large portion of the organization’s efforts have been focused on those incarcerated in the Metro Detention Center (MDC).
As shown in the Summer 2014 installation Upon Release at 516 Arts, JustWrite’s workshops are often centered around a specific theme or prompt. The catalog for the exhibit “Heart of the City” (in which Upon Release was displayed) the project shows participtants in MDC confronting “the reality of what life is like transitioning between world of freedom and isolation both internally and externally when inmates are released in Downtown Albuquerque” (x pg 16). The Upon Release installation invited the public to “listen, watch, and respond” to the inmate authors and artists within MDC.
The JustWrite program’s website publishes some of the works created in their workshops in visual, audible, and/or textual form. The works (as previously mentioned) are largely organized by prompts and themes the participants wrote on. Some of the prompts include:
- I Am…
- Freedom Is…
- This Time Around…
- I’ve Become…
- If Only…
With creative programs such as this one, it can be hard to say truly was the “results” were. The results of the program can’t be measured by quantitative methods. Instead, we can see the results of the program’s influence on its participants through the Reflections section of the website – which again include videos, audio, and text – based around the prompt “JustWrite is…”
An inmate at MDC mentioned by the name JJ, recites his reflection in a video where he states, “JustWrite is not always about being right. It’s about inspiration, helping us find a path that we can’t seem to find…” (x)
Another inmate, DW, wrote a recited a short piece saying:
“JustWrite is two people who gave us a chance. No matter what, no matter who we are. A right given back to me to express who I am. To find myself. To find my sanity. When this life I’m living is insanity. Privacy stripped from my freedom, as well as freedom stripped from my privacy.” (x)
A Georgetown University student and participant in JustWrite, NO, said that JustWrite is “not even a poem, but/a conversation with me, which I enjoy.” A fellow student claimed JustWrite is an opportunity to connect, share, grow, and learn.(x)
However, this program is not perfect and does have a few problems it needs to overcome. A major problem facing the organization is consistency and communication. The program intends to “build community” (x) but its website and social media pages are not frequently updated and any information regarding community involvement and volunteering is not available. In fact, the “Get Involved” page still says “Volunteer opportunities coming soon,” as it has said for the past 3 years. A comment from February 2013 on volunteering has also received no response. And emails to the JustWrite gmail go unanswered (based on mine and Megan Jacobs’s experiences).
Website navigation also poses an issue as links lead to empty pages and getting access to information involves trying to find the right page via following a labyrinth of cascading options, that disappear if your mouse strays even a millimeter away from the option. Some pages can only be reached this way as hyperlinks on some pages lead to pages that don’t exist and other pages don’t connect to the sections the menu advertises. For example, via following drop down menus, you can see there are 4 pages in connection to UNM participants. However, clicking on the UNM page alone will take you to a blank page with no links to the other pages. Similarly, the only way to access any of the writers, pieces, and information on JustWriteNM’s participants is through the drop down menus as the JustWriteNM page itself is blank.
For a program that intends to connect people it is largely inaccessible and/or incredibly frustrating to find any information. For those JustWrite visits, it appears to be a truly wonderful experience, but for those looking for information or wanting to get involved, it is unreachable. Even saying so, the program itself was largely created for the purpose of aiding people in tough situations to express themselves and just write. The ability to make themselves accessible is a project that can be saved for a later time.
Update: In attempt to add more hyperlinks to show the blank or missing pages on the site, I have been unable to find the page with the list of prompts with broken links. In fact I have been unable to find several areas of the site I had previously stumbled upon.