Poet and thespian Donté Clark, 29, visited a classroom at San Quentin on Aug. 11 to talk about his experiences of being a young Black writer from North Richmond, Ca.
“On the surface, my writing is about my feelings, but it’s also about freedom,” Clark told a group of six incarcerated men sitting with community volunteers, who are educators for Academic Peer Education Program (APEP).
Clark added, “I always wanted to come inside a prison to teach–but what can I offer? I came to understand, if I can’t give information, I’ll get information.”
James Metters, one of the APEP incarcerated educators, said, “Donté came in and taught me the power of resilience. He models success as an African American growing up in an urban community. He reminds me that the sky is not the limit.”
Clark talked about his early days of writing. He said the anger he felt from the lack of social or community issues showing up in literature was quelled through his own writing.
“When I was growing up, I was going through a lot,” Clark said. “My parents and teachers didn’t know how to handle me. But, writing down my feelings not only made me feel better, it helped other people.”
Clark said appreciation for his writing passion showed up through community support for a workshop geared toward youngsters. The workshop participants began performing for each other, which gained attention—which grew the workshop until the performances became community shows.
“I’m trying to help raise awareness of what’s happening in Richmond,” Clark said. “I’m getting rid of that anger. If you still have anger and bitterness, you’re still lost. I want to get to that place of harmony. I have to get rid of that emotional blockage.”
Rick Ayers, an APEP volunteer, chimed in saying, “Donté would show up any- where, paid or not paid.”
Clark responded, “The workshops are for kids in the community — they help keep them out of trouble, inspire them to stay in school— with the goal of keeping the kids going.”
Clark performed a couple of poems from his new book, KnowFreedom. Peer educators Raiveon “Ray Ray” Wooden and Philippe “Kells” Kelly followed with original spoken-word pieces of their own.
Referring to the performances, Diane Kahn, a PREP volunteer, said, “I felt as though Donté is on the level that he could speak to the experiences that incarcerated people go through.”
Clark is working on a new piece called Money and a book based on a 14-day trip he took to Indonesia that speaks to peace and love.