Family Arts Program: Writing Exchange
Arts in Corrections
California State Prison-Sacramento
The California Arts in Corrections Family Arts program is a pilot program at New Folsom Prison. The program concept was designed by Dr. Anna Plemons and seeks to use classroom arts instruction to strengthen and support the relationships incarcerated people have with their families, with family being defined here in broad terms. Specifically, the Family Arts program (FA) views program participants as literacy mentors in their respective families and functionally supports participants in that role by providing them with direct instruction, curricular materials, and postage so that they can instigate a creative writing exchange with their family members.
The FA creative writing curriculum consists of a 24-part series of lessons that address principles of writing practice and introduces students to writers whose work reflects those principles. The content of the lessons strategically works to privilege the voices of writers less likely to show up in public school curriculum. Specifically, the curriculum looks to writers of color who describe and exemplify the principles of practice discussed in the curriculum series.
The curricular materials come in two versions—-one intended for adult learners and one that is designed for juvenile writers. Dr. Anna Plemons created the adult curriculum. The juvenile curriculum was created by Beth Coleman, PhD candidate at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. The program is also building a reference library with a selection of related book-length texts (including children’s books) so that incarcerated participants can discuss the literary materials referenced in the curriculum when they write or speak with their family. Funding has also been made available for an anthology of work by incarcerated writers and their exchange partners (children, partners, parents, etc.). Additionally, program administrators are considering the possibility of hosting readings in the Visiting Room where participants and their exchange partners could read and discuss their work.
The program is informed by Indigenous ways of knowing and Indigenous methodologies (Kovach), particularly the idea that the “strengthening of relationships and the bridging of distance” ought to be at the center of all projects and initiatives (Shawn Wilson, Research Is Ceremony). The idea for the program responds to the story that Jim Carlson, longtime Arts in Corrections teacher and administrator, tells about a student in an AIC juggling class at San Quentin in the 1980s. The juggling student told Carlson that he was grateful for the class because, for the first time since his incarceration, he had been able to teach his young children something in the Visiting Room.
Already, participants in the Family Arts program are making similar statements, articulating an interest in (re)connecting with family members around a concrete point of connections not rooted in their identity as an incarcerated person. So far, 29 participants have self-enrolled in the program. In the pre-program survey, participants were asked to identify their relationship with the person with whom they intended to begin a curriculum-based writing exchange. Multiple responses were allowed. The relevant pre-program survey question is below, with responses in bold:
Q2: PLEASE DESCRIBE YOUR RELATIONSHIP TO THE PERSON YOU ARE EXCHANGING WORK WITH:
They are my…
€ Son or daughter (3)
€ Spouse/partner (8)
€ Parent (2)
€ Other family relation (grandchildren, cousin, niece/nephew, etc.) (12)
€ Friend (1)
€ Other _____________________ (1)
The curriculum menu, a sample lesson, and an abbreviated Working Bibliography have been provided (see additional tabs).
For more information about the Family Arts program curriculum or to receive digital copies of curricular materials, please contact Anna Plemons at firstname.lastname@example.org
Plemons, A. & Coleman, B. (2017). Family Arts Program; Writing Exchange curriculum. William James Association.