Creative Writing Class Showcase Prisoners’ Talents

By Charles David Henry
Journalism Guild Writer

The “Brothers in Pen” methodically disappear from the Main Line every Wednesday night. They leave to attend a workshop at San Quentin where they pursue creativity and enhance their imaginations. It’s like going to an artist retreat where the writers hone their craft.

After a year of creative effort, they emerge to showcase their work before a group of visitors who come to the prison every year to hear these short stories.

On Nov. 14, Zoe Mullery’s creative writing class members welcomed 75 visitors to their reading at San Quentin. It was the 11th year that audiences had been invited to hear a collection of both factual and fictional short stories. The guests were raptly entertained for nearly three hours.

“It’s important that authors write for their own satisfaction and for the sake of their craft, but there is a sense of completion when what they’ve written is received by other humans,” Mullery said.

Master-of-Ceremony Rahsaan Thomas arranged the order of the story-tellers to capture the listeners’ interest and appreciation for the Brothers-in-Pen’s creative and resourceful minds.

This year’s stories included one writer’s frustration at dealing with an antagonist inmate. Another writer created a metaphorical assault on the letter M. Several writers wrote about childhood experiences and others included comical anecdotes. One narrative dealt with a young child’s disappointment with his father. Another writer spoke about the lessons absorbed while growing up Black in America.

For visitors who knew little about the lives of incarcerated inmates, it was an opportunity to hear tales, true or imaginary, of past and present experiences, and future expectations. In one instance, attendees heard the aggravation and pain of an inmate accepting his reality of serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. This is the worst sentence a prisoner can receive, next to the death penalty.

During the afternoon session, guests heard a story by Adnan Khan, who described a long-established traditional of prearranged marriages for young Middle Eastern couples. Then came James Metters’ satirical short story about a bank robbery gone bad and Julian Glenn Padgett’s tale of a criminal courtroom strategy that backfires on the prosecution.

Kevin Sawyer offered a tale of an imaginary middle-class revolutionary writing about incarceration, rehabilitation and reentry, and Michael Holmes recounted a story of a young girl who confronts her realities.

Wayne “Wrong Way” Boatwright gave the audience a “compare and contrast” of life before and after incarceration.

Kenneth B. Brydon complained about a relationship with his antagonist.

Thedo “Noble” Butler spoke about a father who taught his sons the reality of the world: they are Black until proven innocent.

Michael “Yahya” Cooke shared with the audience a one-night sexual encounter.

Emile DeWeaver described the frustration of dealing with his siblings.

Ron Koehler told the tale of love and a Biblical journey.

Joseph Krauter wrote about a new pack of Marlboro Reds and menthol cigarettes.

Kdukobraye Pela explained the complications and new-found meaning of his name.

Ivan Skrblinski revealed his own stubborn childhood behavior.

Justin “Killa Clown” Medvin created a chronological attack on the 13th letter of the of the alphabet – M.

Paul Stauffer told about a personal relationship with Bubba, the stuffed talking bear.

David Taylor expressed an emotional relationship with a female.

Rahsaan Thomas chronicled the story of an absentee father.

Kevin Valvardi shared with the audience his indestructibility.

Michael Zell recited his metaphorical Parole Release for Tomorrow program.

On the printed program for the Brothers in Pen event writing instructor Mullery offered this thought:

“Historically, we un-incarcerated Americans have been fairly ignorant of what is on the hearts and minds of incarcerated Americans, what their experiences have been and what kind of creative gifts they might have to offer. I’m very honored to be hosting a gathering like this, an essential human act of sharing stories, which is to the benefit of all Americans, both Incarcerated and Un-incarcerated.”


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