Classes are once again in full swing at the ACJ, and the women’s class is off to a fabulous start. The students are eager and, well, a little lively—in the best possible way.
One of our primary goals is to create an encouraging environment in which the women can write. Anne Lamott, in Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, states, “If something inside you is real… it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work… Tell the truth as you understand it.” Getting to this truth and emotion is difficult (impossible?) if the writer, immediately after sharing her work, faces a slew of harsh rejoinders. So, before we get to nouns and verbs, characters and plots, images and metaphors, we want simply to encourage a community in which writing—at whatever stage—can flourish.
That’s why I love the spirited camaraderie that’s forming in our class. It shows itself in the positive way the students respond to each other’s work. And also in the most unexpected (and enlightening) conversations. I’ll do my best to recount an exchange about jailhouse food from last Thursday’s class. If you’re unaware, inmates can purchase instant foods (oatmeal, noodles, etc.) at a commissary.
- Me (overhearing a discussion about something called “whip”): What’s whip?
- Melissa: Liquid crack, is what it is.
- Everyone at once: You make it with creamer, sugar and cocoa. Mix it a long time—the longer, the better. Who has that jailhouse cookbook? Use whipped cream if you can.
- Lisa: Officer P. told me not to make it after 3:00.
- Me: Why not?
- Phyllis: Can’t sleep! Too much sugar.
- Melissa: I don’t like it.
- Mia: Mix it for at least two hours, and it’s like taffy.
- Me: Two hours?
- Mia: Hey, we got nothing but time.
They said they’d try to bring a batch down, if they could. I must admit I’m curious.
Of course, we don’t just sit around and talk about food all afternoon. The writing’s going well, too. Thursday’s class covered the screenplay format, and how it differs from prose. Mia and Georgia are working together to write a scene showing life on their pod. Next week we’ll delve into a little poetry. I don’t know how they’ll respond, but I know it’ll be an adventure.
-Jen Ashburn, Teacher