• Yardlit


This weekend, we taught our two Saturday classes in Folsom, one for the women, one for the men. The fact that we're able to schedule both classes in two different institutions barely a half mile apart on the same day allows us to maximize our teaching time versus our driving time. One of the major pluses in teaching behind the walls is the opporunity to work with and appreciate the writings of our black students, young and OG.

A rule: one way to make sure that you have a lively, creative writing class is to have enough black students who are able chime in with their writings and their life experiences. One woman especially shared her poetry, and it was deep and wide. Not only did it put her on the map with the other students, it inspired the entire class of writers to try and maintain her high standards. The class at women's Folsom has a diversity of ethnicity. However, our next class at SAC, located just around the corner or down the street from Old Folsom Prison (where Johnny Cash played), has a distinctly different make up. As it happens, that class is nearly 65-70% black, and this being our opening weeks since starting up, this was also the week the writing exploded.

One student wrote a poetic tribute to Oakland, which has been my town since '82. Others recalled tales from their hoods. The writing had spirit and a musical energy, and as an instructor, it occurred to me later that night that, wow, I am privy to some incredible insight as to what it's like to live not only in multi-kulti America, but in the East Bay which I believe is quickly becoming the absolute cultural center of the Bay Area, and that includes San Francisco.

In discussing the class writings, we're able to pass on what's happening on the streets and neighborhoods of the East Bay, where major changes are going down in every direction, be it culture, art, music, films, even financial realities like gentrification. We pass on to the inmates the news of change. It gives folks who are locked up a little more perspective, and that's part of the teaching game. Letting inmates inside prison know how fast things are changing on the outside.

Kent Z