Greetings readers of The Beat Within! Welcome to our latest double issue, 19.39/40, of writing and art from inside juvenile hall and beyond. We are thrilled to share the many-many stories and poems coming out of this fabulous one-of-a-kind issue, from the youngsters we meet each week in our weekly writing workshops, to our BWO contributors from all over the USA.
This past Sunday this editor and a few colleagues had the privilege to lead The Beat Within writing workshops inside San Quentin State Prison. Talk about a treat and an unforgettable experience! Thanks to our colleague and friend, Karin Drucker, we were introduced to Kid C.A.T. (Creating Awareness Together) this past summer. Kid C.A.T. is a group of incredibly gifted men who committed their crimes during their youth and are now serving life sentences. The men of Kid C.A.T. seek to make amends for their past actions through restorative practices and making a positive impact on the society they once harmed by sharing their writings with us at The Beat.
Several months ago, this editor had the chance to meet a number of the participants of Kid C.A.T., including Miguel Quezada, one of their lead teachers/writers. From the conversation with Miguel and his colleagues at Kid C.A.T., The Beat Within was invited back to lead a writing workshop. Well, after a number of hit and miss opportunities, we finally gained precious entrance to meet the men of Kid C.A.T., and run our writing and conversation class inside SQSP, just like we do with the young people inside juvenile hall each week.
This past Sunday, we came to SQSP on a very warm beautiful October day. This Sunday, like most autumn Sundays was filled with activities for many, from watching NFL football games, to Church services, family visits, or simply enjoying the warmth of the sun on the yard.
Upon getting though clearance and crossing the busy yard, filled with men working out, running, playing sports, or simply sitting around enjoying the sun, we made it to our trailer, where our workshop was to be held. We were warmly greeted by the men of Kid C.A.T., who were very eager to share and exchange ideas.
By 12 noon a number of men started showing up for the class, bringing their folders, briefcases, notebooks, or simply themselves. By the time we began our introductions, at 12:30pm, we had close to 30 people in our circle. We went around the circle introducing ourselves, as the men of Kid C.A.T. not only introduced themselves but also included the crime they committed and the number of years they had been locked up. We’d say the years of time served ranged from the teens to forty plus years behind prison walls. Every single participant serving a life sentence. Every single man started this journey as a teen, with the oldest man in the group at fifty-seven years old.. We at The Beat, were incredibly moved and humbled by how comfortable each man was in sharing his story through our writing prompts.
We presented four writing prompts to the group. We lead the class as we always do, getting participants to read the topic aloud and then discussing as a group, prior to the writing. The topics we shared were; My father, My anger, I am proud, and our quote of the week; a quote from Carl Jung, “Loneliness does not come from having no people around you, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to you.” The conversations were heartfelt, moving and amazing. We could only wish you young readers of The Beat could have been present to hear! After getting through the 4 prompts, we then broke off into writing, and that they did, they wrote from their hearts.
As the program came to a close, most of the men read their pieces aloud to the group, to respectful applause. Talk about moving. Talk about knowledge!
Given the agreement with the prison, we could not collect the writings from the men during the program, but the arrangement was that the men could independently send the writings to us if they wanted their work to get published. With that said, our fingers are crossed as we wait by the mailbox, so the whole Beat community can embrace the knowledge that these men shared.
Before you knew it our group was over and our time was up. It was now 3pm and time to be escorted from the prison back to the free world. We had just spent a few hours with 20 plus incredibly intelligent men, hungry to touch lives and share their stories, so future generations will never have to endure the conditions of how they are living – life in prison.
After numerous handshakes and bro hugs, we got the sense this is only the beginning of a very special partnership with Kid C.A.T. The Beat Within is eager to return to lead workshops with the men and even more eager to feature their voices in the pages of The Beat Within, so all our readers can find inspiration. Through our partnership with Kid C.A.T., these caring men will truly be great Beat role models, just like many of our great BWO writers are. Kid C.A.T. will truly compliment all the good work happening inside the halls we visit, as well as those of you who are committed through writing your letters and stories to us from your prison cells across this great land.
We certainly hope in our next issue we will feature the writing of Kid C.A.T, alongside the juvenile hall writings and the many BWO writers who reach out to us each and every day.
This issue goes out to Karin Drucker and the men of Kid C.A.T. for making our first Beat writing workshop inside SQSP such a success. Those of us who experience this class will never forget this amazing opportunity. Thanks for your inspiration and sharing your generous hearts with us all.