This article was contributed by Julie Morris and inmates at the San Benito County Jail.
I have been teaching two creative writing workshops at the San Benito County Jail since January 2018. These workshops are intended to help inmates sharpen their writing skills, learn how to better communicate, and exercise their creativity.
The program is a collaboration between Gavilan College and the San Benito County Jail. Sheriff Captain Tony Lamonica has been an advocate for programs at the jail that help inmates focus on making positive changes in their lives and reduce recidivism.
I don’t ask my students how they landed in jail, preferring to focus on what they’re going to do once they get out. All of them have stories to tell. They’ve made mistakes and they know that. For many, jail is a wake-up call, forcing them to get clean, seek counseling, and consider how their actions have affected their victims, families, and friends. After choosing topics to write about, the students worked for five months on the following journals. Together with my colleague and longtime Gavilan English professor, Kimberley Smith, we guided the inmates and published two spring semester journals. Their poems, essays and illustrations do the talking for themselves.
We hope you enjoy these works, and learn a little bit more about our fellow San Benito County residents who live in the jail.
Julie Morris and Kimberly Smith
Introduction: In Custody
Readers should keep in mind that the writers and artists of Me, Myself, and Dopey: Lost and Found Expressions of San Benito County Jail suffer different types of negative emotions due to incarceration. This book, therefore, becomes an important outlet of positive self expression. It contains the feelings of people behind jail walls. The emotions are real and deep and the writing has allowed us to open parts of ourselves some of us didn’t even know we had.
Rich or poor, anyone can make a mistake. We can all be assholes. Inmates are people, and people make mistakes. The difference is inmates were caught. Not everyone gets caught and, therefore, not everyone gets to feel what it’s like to be judged and sentenced, to be forced out of society and placed into a box for a given time without the freedoms others take for granted.
As you read the words on the following pages, know they arise from real feelings and life experiences. People that get locked up aren’t “bad” people in the way we’ve been taught to believe. Far too often, we are simply people who’ve experienced significant trauma in childhood, things like emotional, physical, and sexual abuse as well as parental abandonment. According to public health experts, children who experience these things have higher rates of addiction, incarceration, and diminished physical and mental health.
Jail sometimes create a strange opportunity. Locked up we begin to reflect on our pasts. We learn to accept ourselves as we are right now, and this acceptance opens our hearts and eases our pain. We have no choice but to live in the present because we literally have no control of our futures. Our jailers decide when we eat, sleep, get medical care, or can see our families. Here, in the present, we can only do what we can do. Surprisingly, it isn’t even all bad.
Priceless is what comes to mind when we think of our Gavilan College classes, for example. Respect, gratitude, and genuine human caring is what this program has brought our community. Our writing becomes a part of our healing. We can honestly say the opportunity to write and learn brings a positive energy to us. We say this out of respect for all who make this program possible––thank you!
May all our community know that the kindness we experience each week does not go unnoticed. In our classes we learn that though life may have wounded us and we hurt deeply, overtime we can heal. One day, it may be as if there were no trace left of our pain but our scars.
What this book shows, is that regardless of where we end up, we remain part of the human collective. Each person has some good in them. Please, take the time to hear our voices. Many people die without ever being heard. Others come alive through the act of listening.
––Writers of A & C pods
For more creative writing from the inmates at San Benito County Jail, check out the PDF files below.