At the excellent Moon Palace Books in Minneapolis’ Longfellow neighborhood, 50 cents buys you a tiny scroll stuffed inside a plastic toy capsule. Each slip of paper is printed with a poem selected by incarcerated writers from the Stillwater Prison Writers Collective. The initiative is part of the ambitious Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop, which offers courses in fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, and playwriting to men and women in every adult correctional facility in the state.
MPWW was founded in 2011 by Jennifer Bowen Hicks, who started out by teaching creative writing to 10 men at Lino Lakes Prison. The program has grown exponentially since. There are now 25 MPWW teachers leading more than 100 classes for 1,200-plus inmates. Some classes dip into nature writing; others focus on restorative justice or the poetry of addiction. Most classes last 10 to 14 weeks. They are therapeutic, rehabilitative, and inspiring.
Once a student completes a course, they can sign up for a one-to-one mail mentor program where incarcerated writers are matched up with writers and editors living in the larger world. Mentees submit creative work (10-40 pages) every month and mentors offer constructive feedback and guidance. There are more than 50 active mentorships at the moment, but MPWW is always seeking volunteers with advanced degrees in creative writing.
Also useful: folks with photography, videography, graphic design, or grant-writing skills. Interested parties can apply through MPWW’s website or email firstname.lastname@example.org if they just want to stuff bubblegum poetry capsules. Proceeds from Moon Palace’s poetry vending machine benefit the MPWW. 🙌