City Paper, "Serving Sentences"

A writing program opens up new possibilities behind bars

By Abby Mendelson

It's 8:30 on a Friday morning, in a 12-by-12-foot cinder-block room in the basement of the Allegheny County Jail. And Theo is here to testify.

Sarah Shotland has just asked him and the other 14 men here if they have anything they want to share. Theo (not his real name) certainly does. He's a drug dealer, Theo says, and he's angry about it. Angry because when he leaves County, he's still going to be a drug dealer. Angry because he wants to provide for his family and doesn't know any other way to do it. Angry because he misses his kids — and because he's afraid that they'll do the same things he did, and end up here too.

The other men, all dressed in red scrubs and sitting in a circle, murmur assent.

"That's so real," one says. The others nod.

Shotland seizes the moment: "Who else is a dad?"

All 14 hands go up.

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