Creative writing beyond bars

As we mark World Book Day, Lisa Krolak highlights the transformative potential of creative writing in the prison context

© Evandro L.D.J. Jr/Shutterstock.com

On World Book Day 2021, the German Prison Library Support Group (Förderverein Gefängnisbüchereien e.V.), in cooperation with the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL), the Ministry of Justice of the German State of North Rhine-Westphalia and the German reading project KonTEXT in Munich, implemented its first nationwide writing contest for prisoners. They were invited to write up to three pages on one or more of the following topics: life, freedom or hope. In the following months, prisoners submitted personal reflections, autobiographical writings, fiction, poetry, accounts of traumatic experiences, song texts, and more.

I was part of the small organizing committee and jury, reading and judging the nearly 400 entries from more than 300 inmates from 80 prisons and five juvenile detention centres from all over Germany. I can say for the whole jury that we were deeply touched by the contributions. Some made us laugh, some made us cry – but they all gave us an insight into the hopes, feelings and dreams of the authors and the reality of life in prison. We are grateful to the authors for sharing their life experiences, thoughts of freedom and hopes. It was moving to hear the silenced voices of people that society decided to lock away. Continue reading

Stories beyond bars: Family literacy in prisons

As we mark World Book Day, Lisa Krolak highlights the transformative potential of providing incarcerated parents with the opportunity to practice literacy skills while bonding with their children

© Storybook Dads

What better way to engage a non-reading, hard-nut prisoner who lacks parenting skills and has lost contact with his kids than getting him to read Cinderella? Sharon Berry, Storybook Dads

Many prisoners are also parents, meaning that countless children worldwide are growing up with the stigma and trauma of a parent behind bars. For children forced into isolation at home by the COVID-19 pandemic, this absence can feel even more acute. Imprisoned parents also struggle with separation, particularly as they are currently not allowed to see their families in most countries. Not being able to stay in touch with their children and families can have a very negative effect on their mental health.

Programmes are needed that provide opportunities for incarcerated parents to maintain strong family connections, enabling them to play an active role in the education, learning and development of their children. Often, such programmes offer crucial learning support to prisoners, who are more likely than the rest of society to have had limited educational experience, and to have difficulties with reading and writing. Continue reading