Last week I was invited by the California Writers Club, High Desert Branch, (CWC) to speak to a group of inmates at the Federal Prison. It was quite an interesting experience. The hardest part was getting inside.
First, you go inside the front door, fill out forms, sign in, and receive a stamp on your wrist. (This is after you have applied for a clearance and have been approved.) They take all your worldly possessions if you forgot to leave them in the car…phones, cash, etc. Then you go through the metal detector and into the next area. There your paperwork is pulled and checked. The paperwork for the two men from CWC, who had been there previously, had been misplaced. It took some time to clear that up, but as a result of it we were able to meet the warden of the prison and that was cool.
The next door took us into a room that had another door to the outside. Only one of those doors can open at a time so the second door won’t open until the first is closed. There was a gadget there that checked our stamps. However, the stamps didn’t show up on the machine so we had to go back out and get re-stamped…there apparently wasn’t enough ink in the pad. We returned went through the second door and walked to a gate that entered onto the complex.
By the time we arrived there it was noon and the inmates were walking from one side of the complex to the other to reach the yard. They were walking around the perimeter of the complex. We walked across and then we waited a few feet from them until they were all past us and then walked into the building where the class was being held. Twenty men awaited our words of wisdom. These were all inmates who were interested in writing, had good behavior records, and thus qualified for the class.
I spoke to the group for about fifteen minutes and then they started to ask questions. We were there for nearly two hours before a guard came in and asked us to wrap it up. The men were very respectful. I have been to many a prison to meet with clients and I have always had to deal with the “looks” and the “mutterings” by inmates. There was none of that here. These men were so thirsty for knowledge. They asked incredible questions and gave great feedback, and even laughed at my jokes. They all have a story to tell and I can imagine many of them are quite interesting. They would love to be published. In fact, two of the men were already published authors before they were incarcerated.
The difficult part for me was trying to give them some positive answers for some of their questions. It is hard enough to get published and promote a book from the outside and many of these men are “lifers.” I encouraged them to use their time to write as much as they can. Maybe one day I’ll read a novel or see a screenplay written by one of these men. No matter what, I’m sure the writing itself is very therapeutic.
Sorry, no pictures were allowed.