Writing as a Rehabilitation Tool

Twenty years ago, volunteers from the University of Kansas started a writing program for men incarcerated in the Douglas County jail. At the 2019 convention in October two leaders who are active members of Kansas Authors Club and a “graduate” of the program will share thoughts about its origin, what a typical session involves, and how everyone—inmates and leaders—benefits from the writing program. They will also read selections by a few participants.

What makes the weekly writing class the most popular activity offered to Douglas County jail inmates? Why is it consistently the largest class offered at the jail? Why does the program director often have to turn away class members when the room fills quickly? And why do the class facilitators continue to return week after week and year after year?

Many writers will affirm that writing is good therapy. In fact, that is the first reason they give to continue writing. There is something about recording words, thoughts, feelings, fears, and ideas on paper that can be cathartic and healing. People who write search for something. Perhaps they seek meaning in their lives. Perhaps they are looking for a personal identity, for a purpose, or as Sister Helen Prejean said, for “what truly matters.” What does matter? Maybe it is some semblance of control over life circumstances. Maybe it is acceptance, companionship, or bolstering a struggling self-esteem.

Perhaps it is hope, as an entry by Donndilla Da Great in the published collection Douglas County Jail Blues begins.

Hope

As I sit in my cell

I get stronger and stronger

I walk and I pace my cell

like a caged tiger

but as the unit comes to a lull

I think of hope . . .

Facilitators of the panel discussion in October include Brian Daldorph who has worked with the jail writers group since 2001. He has taught writing classes at KU since 1990. During his employment at KU, Brian taught in Japan for a year as a Visiting Professor, as well as shorter terms in England, Senegal, and Zambia. In addition, he is the publisher of Coal City Review and has published a number of books, including a book of the inmates’ writing in 2010. His most recent book of poetry, Ice Age/Edad de Hielo was published in 2017. Last year he was recognized as the Kansas Authors Club “Prose Writer of the Year” at the convention held in Salina.

Brian Daldorph

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Antonio Sanchez Day, formerly a participant in this project, is the only ex-con allowed to be a volunteer at the jail. He assists with the writing group as a “graduate.” He will share his perspective on writing from jail, and explain its benefits to himself and others in the program.

Antonio Sanchez Day

Mike Hartnett, a retired business journalist (magazine editor/newsletter publisher), has been a co-leader of the men’s writing group at the jail for four years. He currently serves as the president of the District 2 of the Kansas Authors Club in Lawrence.

Mike Hartnett

Exposing the threads of life common to us all, this class will share emotions recorded in prison verse, and put faces of humanity on those all too easily forgotten. The panel will take one part of the theme for the 2019 convention a step further, from “Book ‘Em” to “Heal “Em.” You won’t want to miss what they have to share.

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October 4-6, 2019

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2019 Kansas Authors Club Literary Contest Opens April 1

Every year, all writers in Kansas, as well as any KAC member regardless of residence, are invited to submit work to the literary contest. There are divisions for young writers as well as adults. This year’s contest opens April 1. All entries must be received by June 15.

The youth contest is open to all Kansas students and to student members of KAC. Writers will compete with others at their age level in five divisions, Grades 1-2; Grades 3-4; Grades 5-6; Grades 7-8; and Grades 9-12. The categories include, Poetry, Fiction, Nonfiction, and Spoken Word Poetry. The winning entries (1st, 2nd, 3rd, and Honorable Mention) of each category and age division will be published in a book. Each writer with work included will receive a copy. Additionally, awards will be presented during a special ceremony at the October convention in Wichita.

The adult contest offers a Poetry division and a Prose division. 2019 Poetry categories include Theme (“Hook ‘em and Book ‘em!), Classical forms, Free verse, Narrative poetry, Whimsy, Japanese forms, Performance (spoken word), and a special category for New Poets.

The 2019 Prose categories include Theme (“Hook ‘em and Book ‘em!), Humor, Memoir or Inspirational, Flash Fiction, Stories Written for Teenagers, Short Story, Playwriting, and First Chapter of a Book–unpublished.

For the first time, there is a special category available for Author’s Blogs or Web Sites. To enter this contest, authors must submit the URL of a website they maintain, a “mission statement” describing the purpose of that website, direct links to at least 3 entries or pages that the author would like to highlight, and a short paragraph detailing how and where the site is publicized and promoted.

Each year Kansas Authors Club also sponsors contests for members who have published books during the previous months. Winners of each book contest are awarded cash prizes of $100.

The Kansas Authors Club Children’s Book Award was created in 2018 to honor the best book written with an audience of children in mind.

“It Looks Like a Million” is an award which focuses on the aesthetics of a book published by a Kansas Authors Club member. The book will be judged on cover design, interior formatting and design, and over-all look and feel of the book.

The Martin Kansas History Book Award was created in 2018 as a tribute to Gail Lee Martin, who was KAC State Archivist from 1995-2005. This book award is open exclusively for books about Kansas history by KAC members.

Created by Raymond and Margaret Nelson in 2002, the Nelson Poetry Book Award recognizes the year’s best poetry book by a Kansas Authors Club poet.

The J. Donald Coffin Memorial Book Award was established by Mrs. Bertha Coffin to honor the memory of her husband after his death in 1978. It is intended to honor the best published book for the year written by a member of Kansas Authors Club.

 

For more information on the 2019 KAC literary contests, including guidelines for submissions, see https://kansasauthorsclub.weebly.com/writing-contests—all-ages.html

What are you waiting for? Write, write, write!

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The Life of a Blogger

Have you ever wondered how to start a blog? How to keep it alive? What to write about? What makes a blog “successful”?

At the October convention, Kansas Authors Club District 5 will host a seminar with a panel of successful bloggers. Each panelist is invited to share their personal blogging story, focusing on what makes a blog attractive to followers. After their short presentations, class attendees will be able to ask questions and receive thoughtful answers from the experts.

Panelists include:

Nancy Julien Kopp

Nancy Julien Kopp writes creative nonfiction, poetry, children’s fiction and articles on writing. She has been published 22 times in Chicken Soup for the Soul books and other anthologies as well as magazines and newspapers. She has blogged for ten years about her writing world with tips and encouragement for writers. www.writergrannysworld.blogspot.com

Joy Hathaway Lenz

Joy Hathaway Lenz blogs at www.writejoywrite.blogspot.com
Joy is a mother, teacher, and writer in Winfield, Kansas. She blogs about nature, politics, faith, and family. She especially enjoys writing poetry and essays, often illustrated with her own photography.

Jim Potter

Jim Potter (www.jimpotterauthor.com)  writes memoir, fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and articles on writing. He’s published Taking Back the Bullet, a contemporary novel; Cop in the Classroom, a police memoir; and Under the Radar, an award-winning play. Potter writes and records a weekly blog/podcast at jimpotterauthor.com. His subjects include writing, history, bios, and book reviews. His specialty is interviewing. Jim lives outside Hutchinson with his sculptor wife, Alex, where they grow sandburs, raise grasshoppers, and create art.

Sara Severance Weinert

Sara Severance Weinert blogs at emptynestfeathers.blogspot.com

Regarding her blog she writes:

What does a mommy blogger do if she missed the mommy-blogging avalanche of the last century? She writes about the empty nest. MomQueenBee (Sara Severance Weinert) prattles about readjusting to life without four sons in the House on the Corner, and has opinions on many things. She tries to be amusing.  (editor note: And often succeeds to the delight of her readers!)

If you have questions about how to manage a blog, you won’t want to miss this panel.

Hook ‘Em!

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Hook ‘Em and Book ‘Em!

Calling all writers!

The Wichita-based District 5 of Kansas Authors Club will host a weekend event October 4-6, 2019, at the Holiday Inn, 549 South Rock Road, Wichita, Kansas. Whether you are a beginner or have years of experience, there will be classes for everyone.

Over the coming weeks, various presenters will be featured in a series of posts here. Many of the planned workshops will enhance the theme with suggestions about how you can hook readers into turning every page, tips that are good for poets as well as any prose genre. Several classes will offer in-depth information about mystery and crime fiction genre, some even explore topics that involve research and detective work in historical settings.

There will be opportunities to chat with old friends, and make new ones. Share your writing adventures, successes, and dreams. Participate in a read-around. Find out the winners of the 2019 KAC literary contests. Great food—great fun—great classes!

You won’t want to miss the KAC convention 2019, “Hook ‘Em and Book ‘Em!”

Mark your calendars: Wichita, October 4-6, 2019.

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To the Butterflies Among my Friends

Fly away, my friend.

Follow the map written on your heart.

Let your colors blaze in the sunshine as you skim across the ocean of prairie, its fall blossoms dancing in the breeze.

Dart through the forests until you find a safe harbor for the night, a leaf among the autumn leaves.

In the morning, push on. You have places to go and things to do.

Have no doubts regarding the course of your flight.

Though your path may trace circles and spirals in the air, and double back toward the waving bluestem heads, it is true to your heart.

Flutter on, a dark speck against expanse of the universe, with an occasional flash of fire when the sunlight catches your vigor.

Do not worry if no others follow the path you break. They follow the maps of their own hearts, and none can know what is written for another.

Though destinations are one, it is the journey which paints life with purpose.

Your journey is your own, unique and wonder-filled.

Congregate with others along the way, sharing shelter and sustenance.

And do not despair if their paths depart from yours.

You will have gained strength and stamina during the gatherings.

But follow your own heart. Cling to your purpose.

Stay with your course and Godspeed, my friend.

 

For those quiet moments of life: Poetry!

There’s nothing like a book of poetry to offer nuggets for your mind during quiet moments. Kansas is home to many gifted poets. I admire their skill in selection of the perfect words. Weaving those words into meaningful verse is a talent I don’t claim.

I have discovered poets who write for almost any occasion. There are those who have written light verse that can make me chuckle. (Max Yoho.) Others possess the vision of a trained photographer and the knack for painting word pictures. (Roy Beckemeyer) There are those who can analyze life and offer its lessons in verse (Ronda Miller), those who search history for clues to the future (Duane Johnson), and those skilled at sharing life in fresh language (April Pameticky).

There is a certain technique to proper reading of poetry. I’m still learning, but here’s what I suggest.

How to read poetry. . .

Find a quiet corner.

Choose a random poem.

Read, perhaps aloud.

                                        Speculate.

                                                  Visualize.

                                                            Empathize.

        Internalize.

Read the verse again.

Contemplate.

Illustrate.

Relate.

     Appreciate.

 

Hats off to the poets of Kansas.

 

Up next to conclude my book journey of 2017: Burt Rashbaum

Your Dreams are Over

Tribute to a Friend who Died much too Young

J. Scott, your dreams are over,

Snared in your youth by the Big M—

            Heartless,

            Trickster

            Devil.

Your gentle tortured soul now free

            But

Your words live on in our troubled world.

The genius of your soul—

Kneeling in awe of the literary greats

F. Scott (you know) Fitzgerald

            Hawthorne

            Rowling

            Thoreau

            Bronte

            Tolstoy

            Huxley

            Tolkien

            Dickens

            Lee

Spouting quotes from the pens of the masters

You read long before.

Once.

Genius.

The journeys you drew me into

Expanded my understanding of family.

We are all part of

            The human one.

You took me places I’d never dreamed.

            Courtroom witness stand

            Visitation at a Maximum security

Lockup

            Pre-dawn in the empty parking lot

                        Of the Johnson County Jail

            911 emergency call for an

                        Ambulance

            Visits to a residential rehabilitation home

Through it all you shared your dreams

Your hopes

Your disappointments

Your fears

 

Your open, gentle spirit showed great devotion

To young Kassidy, a child sister ripped by cancer

From this heartless life.

“I love God,” she taught from her heart.

“And God loves me. That’s all there is

            To it.”

In your world religion rejected and

            Judged you

            Without mercy

For your deviations from the norm.

Kassidy showed you—God Is Love.

But not even she could stop Big M.

You searched for your place,

A home that would love you always.

On the journey, you befriended

            The friendless,

Fought for those

            In the margins.

You took up causes of those

With little voice.

And you wrote for them.

Because you were one of them

And they needed you.

The Pen is Greater Than the Sword, Scott. Or the Needle.

And your words live.

            Even if you don’t.

Big M stole you from those who care.

In this age of rigid conservatism

And legal discrimination,

The civic powers criminalized

Your disability.  Your addiction.

When you needed help,

They served you blame.

They pulled the rug of security

And assistance

            From under your feet.

And you fell.

Forever.

In your words, “Life is suffering. . .

            But God is Love.”

As your spirit takes its first

Hesitant flight in freedom,

May you find the Winds of that Love,

And may they bear you

            Ever higher.

                        Scotty.

The wind is blowing.

Rise up with it and ride.

Tears for a Tree

 
Passed daily on my way to anywhere—
The world’s most beautiful tree,
Stately, spreading limbs, shading
Cattle on hot summer days,

Praying to the sun through winter’s dormancy,

Rustling leaves in a fresh spring breeze,

The symmetry—the shape—taking my breath,
My admiration, my appreciation, my awe.

Set in the valley downstream from our pond,
Water and sunshine in abundance,

A monument along the highway,
A monument to life, the perfect cottonwood tree.
 
But not quite.
 
Mired against a culvert passing beneath the pavement,
The roots incomplete, impossible to anchor against moving water
Or against steel.
One night rain poured in sheets

And the wind blew.
The gale caught those beautiful boughs and
Toppled the tree.
 
The entire tree.
 
Next morning the sun shone on the ruined giant,
Uprooted by wind where the roots found no anchor.

I cry for the tree. And I wonder:
How many times have I been seduced by the
Appearance of perfection?

How many times have I basked in the seduction
Of incomplete beauty?
 
How many times have you?
Have we all?
In the dearth of the stately tree,
May the dry crumbling leaves

And the severed roots and branches
Remind me that beauty may beckon
Though it is flawed with hidden imperfections.
Monuments which steal our devotion
May crumble in life’s storms.
 
Beware what we revere lest a wind come
And topple the monarchs we extol.
Nothing, but nothing, is without a fault
And danger
Waits within that which is most alluring.