(Reprint Permission Granted by the Author)
Teaching Cons New Tricks–Creative Writing & Q.A. Apprenticeship Program
THE ART OF CREATIVE WRITING CLASS: When a person is searching for a theme for an article, short story or novel, some writing professionals suggest that writers take a real life situation and ask “What If?” For instance, what would the U.S. economy be like now if President Obama had been white and his Congress had approved the same economic plan to rebuild the economy, as that of President Roosevelt’s, whose plan Congress endorsed to bring the Nation out of the Great Depression? What if an impoverished person sat in a creative writing class, inside of a prison classroom, and then wrote a million seller, and never returned to prison after release? Miracles happen!
What if that person simply learned to do something constructive that changed the direction of his or her life? That would be priceless! That is my hope for the students who participate in the Art of Creative Writing class, held for two hours, one night per week, in the education department at the Federal Correctional Institution, in Edgefield, South Carolina. This is the same education department I wrote about in my essay, “Fighting for Rights to Write”; published by PrisonEducation.com in Feb. 2014; posted on straightfromthepen.wordpress.com in March 2015. I was poised and ready to battle in federal Court to defend my First and Fifth Amendment rights to occupy my time constructively by using an AlphaSmart word processor to type my manuscripts for publication, and other forms of writings for reasons other than sending documents to a court, as other federal institutions permit. (Another battle may be looming in a similar fight to write.)
A fellow writer and friend, Jeffery P. Frye (aka Professor Frye), initiated the class by working with the Supervisor of Education. Once the class had been approved, then he invited me and another friend and budding author, S.G. Garwood, to sit in and offer assistance to the aspiring writers. Garwood is nearing completion of a historical fiction novel, The Last Confederate Coin, which is already receiving praise from Civil War buffs (view his writing samples and his magnificently designed webpage at http://www.thelastcharlestonconfederate.weebly.com).
The results of this adventure are yet to be seen, but I feel confident that everyone in the classroom will benefit, including me. As a fellow prisoner and someone who is concerned about the insane recidivism rates in the United States, my hope for everyone involved in the class is for them to be blessed with freedom and success, whether that success be as an author, or through some other method where the discipline learned through becoming a writer assists them in their quest to live a better life and not return to prison.
To succeed as an author requires discipline, something most of us lacked before coming to prison, and may lack now. Maybe writing will become more than just putting words on paper. Personally, I wrote my way into learning how to live a new life by journaling on a daily basis, so I know from experience that reading and writing has the power to change lives. Words pack a punch, whether written or spoken, words have the power to change or destroy lives. I choose my words carefully and hope the ones I select affect a positive change.
Professor Frye blogs about the Art of Creative Writing class on bankblogger.weebly.com and murderslim.com/BankRobbersBlog. He labels me and S.G. Garwood as Adjunct Professors, and wrote in his #creativeconvicts (blog), “Wayne (aka Adjunct Professor Dowdy) was challenged on the proper use of an adjective in relation to a plural verb. Wayne claimed he was right, while the other guy claimed he was wrong. Things got a little tense there for a few minutes, and as they had a spirited debate, I wondered if Adjunct Professors carried shanks. Wayne finally went to the library and found a GED textbook to prove his point, and to show that he was right. He was. That’s why he’s my adjunct.”
Professor Frye is a gifted writer who tells a great story and is one who usually makes me laugh anytime I read what he writes, especially his blogs. He also types faster than a woodpecker pecking on a tree, which pays off when paying five-cents per minute to use the Corrlinks computer system we use to email these blogs to someone to post on our behalf. I type slower than he does, but still love to write, and have my own style of writing: I’m a more serious, in-your-face type of writer, who often writes on topics to inform, inspire, motivate or educate, more so than to make readers laugh or cry, even though I sometimes do that too. In the classroom setting, as well as in my personal endeavors, I “seek” to find the truth, and usually succeed, whether that truth concerns a historical fact; the proper use of a word; discussing a verb that becomes a present participle after adding “ing” (e.g., “break” versus “breaking”); so that the ex-verb then functions as a noun, not-so-commonly known as a gerund.
Either way, I always want to know the correct answer and will sometimes go to extremes to find it; whether I do or don’t, I still want to find the answer and will continue my quest to do so, long after the thrill of debate has gone. I am also known for calling it as I see it, politically correct or not. I am not. That’s just not me, even though I do try to be considerate of another person’s feelings, I am not one who sprinkles sugar on a pile of poop to claim it is ice cream.
Please pardon my frankness, and my bizarre metaphor, but this is Straight From the Pen, not the Pentagon, and my use of that metaphor certainly paints a picture to stick on a wall, not soon to be forgotten. Perhaps the students in the Art of Creative Writing class will be more selective and less aggressive with words; however, since we are in prison … some may be more vicious with words than an overzealous prosecutor in a murder case. We’ll see.
QUALITY ASSURANCE APPRENTICESHIP PROGRAM: As I wrote in my “Vacation In Prison” blog on April 10, 2015, I work for the Federal Prison Industries, Inc. (UNICOR). I am a tutor in their Quality Assurance Apprenticeship Program, and have been since its inception in 2006. None of the graduates released back into society have become recidivists. That deserves recognition by all standards. I mainly teach Grammar & Writing Skills and other education-related fields of study, as well as helping the students to learn certain aspects about the Quality Management System, which meets the required standards for certification under the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), 9001: 2008 Requirements.
The Quality Assurance Manager realized its importance for the students to learn. He put an emphasis on teaching these students more about ISO principles than the previous students had to learn before becoming certified Quality Assurance Inspectors, who may be able to get out of prison and obtain a position as a Q.A. Manager by going to college to take a few more associated courses. One inmate who learned ISO in prison got out and got a job as a Project Manager for a reputable company. Dreams do come true.
The Apprenticeship program recently expanded to having six students enrolled. I create tests that all of them hate but learn more about the subject by the time they complete their assignments. As in Kindergarten, the only grade I give anyone is an “S” or “U” for satisfactory or unsatisfactory. Basically, the students are given course material and then turned loose to learn all they can. If someone fails to earn an “S” … I take the time to help him learn what he is missing or failing to understand about the procedure or process being taught.
Essentially, one has to refuse to do the assigned task to receive a “U,” which is then up to the Q.A. Manager to decide on where to go from there. Most apply themselves to learn what is being taught. This is a voluntary program, and the only one with anything to loose is the student, so each of them usually does what is required, even though some do complain about the level of difficulty in my tests. I give them tough love because I care enough to challenge their intellectual capacity to get them used to using their head for more than plotting crimes against humanity or for storing effects from illicit substances.
If the person doesn’t want to learn, I tell them not to waste my time. For the eager ones who really want the prize, I offer to teach them “Advanced Grammar & Writing Skills.” In that part of the program I teach the apprentice technical writing so that he will be qualified to write instructional documents; e.g., manufacturing & inspection instructions, quality manuals, policies and procedures. In other words, something more than simply inspecting a product. Technical writing is a very lucrative craft, which I have years of experience at doing in UNICOR. In 1997 I began writing job procedures for constructing missile cables, remote area lighting systems, power distribution boxes, army tank wiring harnesses, and other military products. I literally earn pennies in comparison to what I would earn doing so as a freelance technical writer in society, but at least I have obtained enough knowledge at doing it to share the wealth with others who may one day get to use those skills for the betterment of society.
A FIGHT TO REDUCE RECIDIVISM: Education is a proven method of reducing recidivism, as shown in my essay, “Education, the Prisoner, and Recidivism”; published by PrisonEducation.com in May of 2013; posted March 2015 on straightfromthepen.wordpress.com. For both subjects above, writing is an instrumental process, and is one that allows participants to occupy their time in a constructive manner, instead of running around creating drama by plotting on how to get out to commit more crimes and continue to feed the American Mass Incarceration Machine.
Shouldn’t prison administrators want their inmates to be learning something to prepare them for successful reentry into society? Don’t the designated keepers owe it to the public to provide prisoners with needed tools for preparation of release back into society; especially, those who want to learn something so that they can increase their chance of success upon release? Who wants prisoners to reenter society and collect new victims? Don’t we owe it to each other to help the disadvantaged transcend to another level? I feel we do. I do my part, and am sad to say that I often struggle to get support from the staff to do what needs to be done to help my peers get out and not return. That includes having something as simple as regularly held Twelve-Step meetings, or having ample time to use educational tools or equipment needed to help prepare the prisoner for the challenges that lie ahead. Read “No Sympathy” posted on straightfromthepen.wordpress.com for some staggering statistics on recidivism to grasp the seriousness of the situation. I am sure it will leave you wondering why a prisoner must struggle to help others avoid becoming a recidivist.
The looming battle concerns the possibility of the education department not allowing writers and inmates to use the AlphaSmarts for creative and other forms of writing, other than preparing documents to mail to the courts. The use of such a device that has the potential of preventing some prisoners from becoming a recidivist seems worthwhile. If possible, many of us prisoners would buy or rent AlphaSmarts or other similar products to constructively occupy our time and attempt to learn a skill to rehabilitate ourselves. I suggested the same but it fell on deaf ears. Imagine that!
The cost of an AlphaSmart word processor and the associated costs of supplies, cannot compare to the cost of a recidivist. On March 9th, 2015, the B.O.P. Director reported in the Federal Register that the FY 2014 Annual Determination of Average Cost of Incarceration was $30,619.85 per year/$83.89 per day. Based on those numbers, the cost of providing educational tools and equipment is a cost effective measure–money well-spent–an investment far less expensive than re-incarcerating a person for multiple years or possibly for the rest of their lives. The cost of recidivism is human lives.
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[Update: AlphaSmarts were removed for the general population two-years later after the Supervisor of Education changed. This section modified and address removed due to release from prison on August 28, 2018]
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