Literary event highlights work from Adams State’s incarcerated students


image from poster - looking through stone window to ocean beyond

The Adams State University Distance Learning Program presents Voices From Inside, a reading of literary work of Adams State incarcerated students. The free event will be held from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m. Tuesday, April 5, in Nielsen Library second floor. Light refreshments will be provided.

The work will be read by Kathy Park Woolbert, adjunct instructor of English, and Dr. Carol Guerrero-Murphy, emeritus professor of English, with opening remarks by Walter Roybal, Extended Studies assistant vice president – academics.

"Unfortunately, since all the students involved with this reading are currently incarcerated, none of them will be able to read their work in person, but all of them have given us permission," Woolbert said. She created a prison memoir course with a dual focus: Part one examines two complete prison memoirs and several excerpts from prison memoirs so the student has a chance to reflect and analyze the components of memoir in general and the prison memoir specifically. Part two involves the student writing his/her own memoir, or at least the beginning of it.

"Some of my students have seized the opportunity to write truthfully about their troubled pasts, and how those past histories resulted in the criminal behavior that landed them in prison," Woolbert added. The following is an example from an introductory paper by R. Tiran: "My status as a criminal seems to always enter a room before I do, infecting any true introduction. The scars on my wrists bound from the past and my ball and chain of regret are of little help. Furthermore, explaining who I am is difficult due to who I was. I have regretfully discovered that the greatest mistakes are eternal, and this fact of forever ruins any meaningful 'nice to meet you.'"

Woolbert also teaches Advanced Composition and a general education Com Arts 2 for incarcerated students. All courses are taught through the Extended Studies Distance Education program. "As for myself, working with incarcerated students again is a surprise and a gift because I have worked with prisoners before and I never thought I would again." From 1990 to 1994 Woolbert founded, administered and taught in the Prison Integrated Health Program, an all-volunteer program of holistic health for prisoners and staff at FCI Dublin, the West Coast federal prison for women. Classes were offered in creative writing, meditation, stress management, art and crafts, parenting, peaceful conflict resolution, theater, and yoga before the program was shut down.

"Back then, I was astounded to realize how much incarcerated students had to teach me," Woolbert added. "I am immensely grateful that it's happening again with the students I now have through ASU Extended Studies."

Guerrero-Murphy teaches four courses through the program, including an advanced poetry workshop. "I have found this to be one of the most rewarding teaching and learning experiences of my life. My fields, imaginative literature, analytical writing and creative writing, provide opportunities for these students to think deeply about others and to write the truths they know from their hearts and minds. I believe that increasing our investments in education may decrease levels of incarceration, but for these students, may contribute profoundly to their growth, healing, and potential ability to contribute 'outside'."

According to Carissa Watts, Extended Studies director of advisement and recruitment, the event will provide "an eye-opening experience" on what being a student who is incarcerated means and looks like.

For more information about the Voice From Inside literary reading, call the Office of Extended Studies at 719-587-7671.