Life Sentences: Writing Behind Bars
But a person need not go to prison to access the therapeutic value of autobiographical writing. Which of us has not put walls and razor wire around our concealed sadnesses and past regrets? Who among us was raised by a perfect family? Who does not have hilarious, life-affirming stories to share and debilitating secrets to dispel? Which of us is so self-aware that we could not reveal ourselves more deeply by reflecting on our lives with fingertips on the keyboard—and then sharing our discoveries with other writers and bearing witness to theirs? In doing so, we discover that "the other" and we are more alike than different, variations on a theme of humanity and circumstance.
Michelangelo, the 16th-century artistic genius, once said this about his work: "I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free." My inmate students, you, and I are damaged angels-in-waiting who have the potential to sculpt our best selves with the aid of paper and pen. The rehabilitative power of our words invites us to test our still-wet wings, tentatively at first and then with greater and greater assurance. And as that happens, we rise above the concrete and razor wire of painful memories, baffling personal mysteries, and imprisoning secrets. Our load lightens, our perspective changes. We fly away.