PW visits NYU's Global Liberal Studies. l-r Tim Tomlinson (President New York Writers Workshop and Professor NYU GLS), Nina d'Alessandro (Professor NYU GLS), PW writers and invited speakers Justin Corney and Rafael Carrera, and PW Executive Director Jessica Hall.

PW visits NYU's Global Liberal Studies. l-r Tim Tomlinson (President New York Writers Workshop and Professor NYU GLS), Nina d'Alessandro (Professor NYU GLS), PW writers and invited speakers Justin Corney and Rafael Carrera, and PW Executive Director Jessica Hall.

Emma Goldman-Sherman (left) with Jessica Hall (right), the Executive Director of Prison Writes
Emma Goldman-Sherman (left) with Jessica Hall (right), the Executive Director of Prison Writes

Prison Writes is an innovative, therapeutic writing program with a trauma-informed approach.  We bring writing workshops to detained, incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals for advocacy, therapy, literacy and more.  Prison Writes mission is to support participants literacy development and writing skills so they can have real opportunities for successful rehabilitation and re-entry.

Prison Writes' high professional standard was developed to meet the needs of vulnerable populations, while introducing participants to real world writers. Our workshops are co-facilitated by licensed social workers and professional writing teachers who are also published authors.

Through Prison Writes, NYWW instructors have taught workshops for formerly incarcerated community members at the New York Public Library, with youth populations in an alternative-to-incarceration program, young people in the New York City Administration of Children’s Services Close to Home initiative, program participants at the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office of Re-entry, and Bronxconnects Alternative to Incarceration program for adolescents.

Our facilitators engage participants in literacy development through diverse reading materials and writing exercises.  We aspire to increase participant’s confidence in achieving their career, educational, and life goals through writing.  This includes the ability to communicate their lived experience to self-advocate, and to pursue higher education and meaningful and gainful employment.

We bring writing workshops to participants in the institutions where they are being held and receiving services.  Our workshops are tailored to participant’s needs.  For women who are preparing for re-entry we work with them to write their bios and resumes.  Activities include lifemaps and poetry exercises reflecting on where they are from and where they are headed.  For youth who have been repeatedly suspended, and their educations have been interrupted by jail, our workshops focus on literacy development through reading and writing exercises based on contemporary literature, magazines, comic books, and lyricists. 

Young people and adults who are incarcerated are more likely to be high school drop outs, to have been subject to greater disciplinary action, such as suspension, due to their race and gender[1].  Youth who have suffered incarceration are more likely to be at risk for not graduating high school,  ‘More than half of incarcerated youth have reading and math skills significantly below their grade level and approximately 60 percent have repeated a grade’ and ‘At least one in three incarcerated youth is identified as needing or already receiving special education services [2].  Together these factors point to a specific and urgent need for educational programs in jails and prisons as well as re-entry programs. Research shows that marginalized populations are more likely to be pushed out of school and into prison. Educational programs, specifically literacy development, can prevent recidivism, ‘correctional education reduces post release recidivism and does so cost-effectively. And the study also looks at another outcome key to successful reentry—post release employment—and finds that correctional education may increase such employment.’[3]

Multiple studies over time indicate the need for education in prison, and the influence of education in preventing recidivism.  Literacy is the key to education, and education is the key to success.

[1] Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls' Childhood, Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality, June, 2017

[2] The Council of State Governments Justice Center, “Locked Out: Improving Educational and Vocational Outcomes for Incarcerated Youth” (New York: The Council of State Governments Justice Center, 2015)

[3] Evaluating the Effectiveness of Correctional Education, A Meta-Analysis of Programs That Provide Education to Incarcerated Adults Lois M. Davis, Robert Bozick, Jennifer L. Steele, Jessica Saunders, Jeremy N. V. Miles, RAND Corporation ISBN: 978-0-8330-8018-7, © Copyright 2013 RAND Corporation

Jessica Hall, the Executive Director of Prison Writes, has worked directly with at risk youth in New York City for over twenty years.  She has conducted intergenerational oral history projects with public school students and memoir writing with court involved youth. Jessica received her BA in Political Science from Brooklyn College graduating CumLaude.  She graduated with honors with her MSW from the Silberman School of Social Work in NYC with a focus on Community Organizing. Jessica is a licensed social worker.