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Nonprofit ‘Heard’ to Teach Art and Creative Writing Classes on Zoom with Alexandria Jail Inmates

Creative writing nonprofit Heard is still finding ways to make noise. The three-year-old nonprofit had to shut down a number of its creative writing and art classes for the homeless, domestic violence survivors, and the incarcerated because of the pandemic. Now inmates at the Alexandria Detention Center will soon have back their creative outlet with Zoom classes.

“The jail did contact me and said they are in the process of getting more access to televisions and Zoom capabilities,” Collins told ALXnow. “And they asked me to put a proposal in so we could continue to offer creative writing poetry and visual arts classes.”

Heard now has a dozen community partners, including the Alexandria Domestic Violence Shelter, Community Lodgings, the Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Center and the Arlington County Detention Center. It’s also in the process of adding Casa Chirilagua to its mix of clients.

Instructors include former Alexandria Poet Laureate Wendi Kaplan, former Baltimore Ravens cheerleader Tina Kantiano, and TV journalist Alexandra Rockey Fleming.

Heard sponsors an annual writing contest at the Alexandria and Arlington Jails, and also teaches creative writing, journalism, poetry, visual arts, improvisation, etiquette, dance and public speaking.

Collins, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel, said she is inspired by the level of creativity exhibited by Heard’s students.

“I always thought their stories were valid, that marginalized communities needed a platform and deserve to be heard,” she said. “There is no commonality among people in detention centers, aside from the fact that they’re incarcerated. There are people with advanced degrees, people who never made it through high school. They are some of the cleverest people I’ve ever gone across, and I base that on reading their written work.”

The untitled piece below the jump was written in August 2019 by Stephen Y. in the Alexandria Jail.

Untitled

Stephen Y.

I feel depressed because there is no way out of this hell.  I am surrounded by memories of my past.  There are people I love and do not have at my side.  Nobody can understand my situation and if anyone can it’s because he is sitting in a prison cell.  And the cure for this depression is being able to write, so that he who has not known this life, and thinks he has suffered, changes his way of thinking and feels blessed.  Because I will tell you what it is like to stay in the land of the forgotten.

It is difficult and brings me great sorrow to be behind this glass and see my mother and not be able to touch her.  My world feels cold, the only comfort she can offer is to tell me, “My son, my God is with you.”  And I respond, Thank you, my sweet mother, I know He is the only one who will allow you to be by my side again.

It pains me to see how my days fly by and I am here with no diploma because I did not listen to the advice of my grandmother.  I ended up locked in a cell.  My beautiful children will ask why I am not with them, and I lie, and tell them I’ll be there very soon.  The truth is that I no longer even know who I am.  Much less what day it is, I’ve lost count, and my only goal is to survive.

I had a love who always swore she’d love me, but right from the start all she did was forget me.  Now my faithful comfort is our memories, which remain forever in my heart and mind, and I hope never to see you again because today I am in search of someone who can heal me.  I wish you the best, and hope that your new love can give you what you couldn’t find with me.

Forgive me for having left you alone.  I want you to know that my only wish was to always be at your side, but the mistakes of my past did not allow that and today, from a prison cell, I have confessed my failures to you and the reason for which I can no longer remain at your side.  But to you I don’t matter because now you have forgotten me, laid me aside.

My friends the two priests played me and made many false promises and in the end they all judged me and criticized me and finally abandoned me.  My best friend betrayed me, he slept with my wife and didn’t have the guts to tell me, never even mentioned it.  I never faltered in my support for her and all the love I felt for her — but that betrayal killed it.

Mamacita, be calm, I don’t resent you.  Why spend words on you, that’s only a waste of breath.  I wish you all the luck in the world, I tell you this from deep in my heart.

I leave you with some of these thoughts of mine, which are my life experiences and honest feelings. My freedom has been stolen and I live all my days with the deepest darkness that has ever befallen me.

This is a story which I hope in its short telling may be of use to those who have everything.

And if you, who are outside, think that you have failed in some way — well come and put yourself in my place so that you can see how one feels to be trapped in this madhouse.

Give thanks to God every day for your blessings since you don’t live like I do in a world of sorrow.

Photo via City of Alexandria

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