- Associated Press - Saturday, October 31, 2015

SPARTANBURG, S.C. (AP) - The Spartanburg County Detention Center is trying a different, more creative way of tackling recidivism.

Every week, four creative writing classes are offered to the inmates. Two of the classes focus on the mechanics of writing, and two are designed to be more therapeutic, said Melissa Kucemba, an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer working in the jail.

As an AmeriCorps VISTA member, Kucemba is responsible for helping create rehabilitative programs for the inmates. The two technical classes explore literary terms, grammar and the structure of writing pieces, Kucemba said. The other two classes are designed to get inmates to open up in their writing and explore decisions in their life that led them to jail.

“It’s an opportunity for them to get out of their pod and write and get out whatever emotions they might be bottling up,” Kucemba said.

Jonathan Burgess with Upstate Warrior Solution teaches the technical class.

When the inmates come in, Burgess gives them an abstract prompt and it allows them to take their writing in a variety of directions. After the inmates have a chance to write, Burgess opens the floor and offers anyone who wants to read the chance to do so. After the inmates read, Burgess and other members of the class offer feedback.

There have been some challenges due to varying education levels, Burgess said. He was worried that would lead to problems when it was time to offer feedback and constructive criticism. But, he said, the inmates have taken it in stride.

“We’ve got a little writing community,” Burgess said. “Some impressive stories come out of these guys.”

The inmates have been receptive to the class and offered a lot of positive feedback, Burgess said.

William Nash attends the creative writing class every Friday, and it’s been an outlet for him. Nash, who is in jail on drug charges, said he’s trying to take advantage of every opportunity available to better himself while he’s in jail.

It’s not just a creative writing class, Nash said. He sees it as a way to help him and other participants succeed in the future. Another inmate, Richard Seay, said participating in the creative writing class helped him recently when he was sentenced.

“Not only does it teach you how to write, but it helps you express yourself,” Nash said. “If you’re in a job situation, you know how to speak to an employer. It can open avenues for different jobs and job skills.”

During the classes, Burgess said, the inmates frequently discuss the paths that led them to jail. Classes like this are important, Burgess said, because it gives the inmates a chance to explore something outside of the walls of their cells.

Long term, Burgess said he feels like writing and other classes can help combat recidivism by helping inmates be more careful in their decision-making processes.

“The writing process helps them rethink their own cognitive processes and their own decision-making,” Burgess said. “If they don’t get stuck in their head and can step outside for a second and reconsider everything that has led up to their current situation… They can decide what the falling action is going to be in their life.”

Kucemba, the VISTA member, said that such classes give inmates the opportunity to take what they’ve learned and relate it to their lives when they’re back in the community. Hopefully, Kucemba said, it can help inmates get back on their feet and break the cycle of incarceration.


Information from: Herald-Journal, https://www.goupstate.com/

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