SER editors bring poetry program to local correctional facility
By Sofia Cabrera
A common way for humans to overcome life’s difficult circumstances is through creative expression, like poetry, art, or song. For women who are incarcerated at Gadsden Correctional Facility in Quincy, Florida, their daily lives are challenging and tedious, living in enclosed spaces and given mundane tasks to complete.
In late February of 2022, members of Florida State University’s nationally recognized literary magazine Southeast Review—Amanda Hadlock, Brett Hanley, and Anthony Borruso—gave these women an opportunity to discover and express themselves creatively.
Hadlock is on the editorial team for SER, and she organized an onsite event at the facility, with help from Hanley and Borruso, both poetry editors for the publication.
“Our goals are to spread awareness about Southeast Review and to receive more submissions from incarcerated writers,” she explains. “We provide the tools for submission and hopefully they will do so.”
The facility occasionally offers the women educational opportunities, such as service dog training programs and cosmetology and business classes. These programs and classes allow women to experience a sense of normalcy, despite their situations.
The incarcerated person initiative began in 2019 with former SER nonfiction editor Dyan Neary. Neary is a Spring 2021 FSU English alumna, earning her doctorate in Creative Writing-Nonfiction, and she hosted the first event at the same facility. However, the pandemic put the workshop on hold.
As SER’s current assistant editor, Hadlock restored the workshop to show how writing can be emotionally satisfying when putting things into perspective. During the February workshop, 32 women of various ages and backgrounds attended the event and read and discussed poems and completed a writing prompt on their own.
“When meeting the women, I learned that some had been at the prison for more than ten years while others just arrived," Hadlock says.
On day one of the workshop, Hanley read a poem that targeted issues such as gender and bullying. Despite the seriousness of the issues mentioned, the poem was written in a fun way so the women could relate. Afterward, they discussed the poem and what stood out to them.
“Throughout the workshop, the women had many thoughtful questions for us and were eager to share their work,” says Hanley, who adds the women were energetic and excited about the experience.
I have taught many undergraduate classes with wonderful and engaged students, but the women at the Gadsden Correctional Facility were bursting with energy and excitement in a way I have not encountered as a teacher before.
— Brett Hanley
Following that discussion, Hadlock gave the women a prompt to answer, and they shared their work aloud. The women’s creative compositions ranged from fantasy fiction to explorations of identity to reflections on nature.
“In one of the letters, a woman quoted a phrase I have always liked, ‘Not my circus, not my monkeys.’ It's such great advice,” Hanley says, referring to the Polish proverb. “Another woman even shared a rap song she wrote.”
At the end of the workshop, Hadlock spoke with the facility’s warden about the success of the workshop, and she says SER editors look forward to hosting the event again next year.
Overall, the SER members say the women from the facility enjoyed interacting with new people and seemed humbled that others were interested in their writing and successes. Despite their difficult situations and uncomfortable environment, the magazine’s staff provided the women a respite from those conditions and perhaps a more hopeful future.
Q&A with Amanda Hadlock
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your role in Southeast Review?
I am the assistant editor for Southeast Review. I attended Missouri State University for my undergraduate career, and I am currently a master’s student in creative writing. At Southeast Review, we read in poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and visual art. We also want to publish emerging writers, and we publish two issues per year, one in the fall and the spring. One of my jobs as assistant editor is to host an incarcerated person initiative. In doing so, we hope to increase the number of submissions from these individuals. This year, I organized a workshop at one of the prisons [in Quincy] near Tallahassee. We gave the women writing prompts to answer and short readings to discuss.
What did you and the women do at the workshop?
On the first day, we read a poem together. The poem we used in the workshop discussed serious issues such as gender and bullying. Despite the issues mentioned, the poem approaches those topics in a fun way. The women enjoyed it and seemed to relate to it. Afterward, we discussed the poem, and they shared what stood out to them. We gave them a writing prompt to answer, and it was based on writing a letter to someone or your future self. The women shared what they wrote, and we provided revision strategies. At the end of the workshop, we wanted feedback from the women and ways to improve future workshops. We also shared ways they could promote their writing, and we gave them all the resources on how to submit their writing to Southeast Review. The last time we published from an incarcerated person was in our Spring 2020 issue, Volume 38.1. Read "Prophets and Angels Weeping," by John Luckett. We hope to increase these submissions in the future. Read
What are your hopes for future workshops?
I would love to have 100 percent participation from all attendees. Most of them were willing to share their work, and we hope to encourage everyone to do the same. We would like to make this an annual event. The women who participated asked us to come back once or twice a month. As assistant editor, I want to bring back this workshop.
Q&A with Brett Hanley
Click here for a profile of Brett.
As someone who helped host the event, what do you think the women in the prison wanted to express through their creative action?
As is the case in any creative writing class, the women had many different things to express. The writing they shared with us ranged from fantasy fiction to explorations of identity to reflections on nature. Others used a prompt we shared with them, which was to write a letter to your past or future self. Something that was striking to me was the letters to future selves. There was a continuous theme of reclaiming the self. In one of the letters, a woman quoted a phrase I have always liked, “not my circus, not my monkeys.” It is such great advice.
At the end of the workshop, what stood out to you the most?
The women at the workshop had such enthusiasm for writing and talking about their writing. They had many thoughtful questions for us, and they were eager to share their work. I have taught many undergraduate classes with wonderful and engaged students, but the women at the Gadsden Correctional Facility were bursting with energy and excitement in a way I have not encountered as a teacher before.
Sofia Cabrera is a Spring 2022 graduate in English-Literature, Media, and Culture, with a minor in education. She begins law school in the fall of 2022.
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