Tickets Available for April 13th Fundraiser

We are very excited to announce that tickets have just gone on sale for our fundraising event on April 13th Irma Freeman Center for the Imagination.  The event is part art exhibit, part poetry reading.Our maenad fellows have worked all semester creating broadsides of their creative work.  We're also making unique prints of select works from our students at SCI Pittsburgh.   These men wrote ekphrastic poems and prose from Mark Perrot's collection of photographs, E Block, which will also be on display next to our students' framed work!  Prominent Pittsburgh artists will read work from SCI writers, while the Maenads will read their own work.

Broadsides and chapbooks will be on sale throughout the evening, but there is limited space for this event!

There are several ways to participate:

$30 VIP Tickets. Includes admission, broadside & chapbook.

$20: Admission Ticket.

$20: Angel Admission. Your purchase of an angel ticket will allow someone who can't afford a ticket to attend in your place.

Tickets are available at:

If you cannot attend, or simply would like to donate, you can always MAKE A GIFT

Again, space is limited, so act now and reserve your spot!  

Chapbook Season

It's chapbook season, here at Words Without Walls!  We've been busy with in-class revision, getting reading to submit work to print in the chapbook. The formal reading is only two weeks away. 

I thought I'd share a short poem with you all from one of our students in the Thursday men's class, J. Myers.  J. has come to class with great work throughout the semester, and he's also shown tremendous progress with his writing. This piece isn't going in the chapbook, but he gave us permission to share it here, with you all.  Thanks for reading!

"God Is Real"

So you really think the Sun, moon, and stars came from a big bang.

I wouldn’t buy that for a few dollars and some pocket change.

Maybe you think some alien’s kids are playing some big game,

On this field called a planet with little earthlings.

The body, brain, and heart should at least be some signs,

That all of this couldn’t have just popped up at one point in time.

I rather believe in something and be right,

Than believe in nothing and be wrong.

Cuz if you’re right you have everything to gain,

and if you’re wrong you have nothing to lose, maybe just your soul.

This is no debate don’t be confused it’s out of your control.

But we all have freewill when it comes to our destiny and goals!

Cause life is a gift and death is no surprise,

God is real, God is real, it’s not too late to realize!

--J. Myers

AWP Service Project: Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop

The AWP conference was a whirlwind of panels and readings and networking, but what really stood out was this service project at the book fair.  Free Minds Book Club, a DC organization dedicated to teaching and empowering incarcerated DC youth, brought in a workshop's worth of poems from youth in adult prisons.  

Conference attendees were prompted to respond with encouraging handwritten feedback, and in the process, read some great poetry from young voices who need to be heard. I also thought the blue handout pictured above gave some great tips on how to give useful, lasting feedback to young writers. This was a fantastic idea for a project, and an activity we're absolutely considering for our next event in April.  Stay tuned for more info!

For more information about Free Minds Book Club, check out their website at

Autobiography in the Making

This semester I decided to center our class around the theme of autobiography.  I've been bringing in different examples of autobiographical work that include short stories, poems, and excerpts from full-length books. One of my students, I'll call him D, was immediately engaged at the thought of writing his own autobiography.  The very first class, he opened his notebook and started writing pages of work, all while participating in discussion and reading the texts that day.

D has always been an amazing student.  He loves to read aloud, share his work with others, and participates beyond expectations with all of my writing assignments.  Sixteen years old, people!  All of this, dealing with the everyday distractions you might expect with a high school class in an adult jail.  

We're four weeks in, and yesterday, D approached me with 25 pages of writing, filled with stories from his childhood.  It's been such a pleasure having him in class, and reading his work was probably the most rewarding experience I've had so far teaching in this program. I've already bragged about his work with my peers and friends, but I thought i'd share the title page with you all, complete with a self-drawn cover!  I can't wait to see what comes next from D.  If it's another 25 pages, then we've got a serious book in the making!

Thanks for reading.  I'll be sure to keep updating the blog with progress from D, along with work from my other amazing and talented students.  

Mike Bennett, Words Without Walls Teaching Artist



The Black Boy and the Bullet

Today at ACJ I brought in a few of Danez Smith's poems for the kids to read. They really enjoyed "Boyz in the Hood 2" and "Juxtaposing the Black Boy and the Bullet." They argued over whether they were faster than bullets.  They wondered if bullets really lived their lives in a flash. We talked about metaphors and allusions and how powerful an image can be. It seems as though every time I try to get a message through to them about signifiers in poetry, these kids already know it better than I do.  

After reading "Boyz in the Hood 2," one kid paused and told us that in two years, he would just be a memory.  When I asked him what he meant, he told me he was worried his family and friends would forget about him if he was locked up. This was the first time he really shared openly in class, and I was devastated to hear that he felt this way.  We told him that we wouldn't forget about him.  That he should keep writing and sharing and that way no one could forget about him. No child should have these worries so early in their life.    

Last week I gave one of my students The Autobiography of Malcolm X and he reported back to me that he's already more than halfway through the book. That's 200-something pages!  He told me it's way better than the movie, and it seems like a very accurate representation of his struggle. He wants to go to Mecca.  He really just wanted to get back to the pod to read some more of the book.  Kristine told me she's going to try to get a class set and have everyone read the book. I was so excited at the prospect of this group of kids all learning the story of Malcolm X.  I'm really looking forward to what might come of this. Every week is a new adventure.

-Mike Bennett, Words Without Walls Teaching Artist