For the last four years, I drove out to the Minnesota Women’s Correctional Facility in Shakopee to teach a two-hour writing class. This was both demanding and fulfilling work. My students tended to be intelligent, imaginative writers, but often poorly educated in the tools of writing. I got a close-up look at the consequences of racial and economic inequalities, of untreated mental illness, and of family dysfunction, especially child abuse. My students are not bad seeds or evil people. Some are in prison because their lives turned on one bad decision or one critical, chaotic moment. I am extremely grateful to Andrea Smith, the prison librarian, for getting me involved in this activity and for being an inspiring model of how to expect the best of women whom others often treat with contempt.
I am not teaching there for now because I am reserving my time to complete a book that I’ve been working on for far too long. I will, however, be working individually, by mail and phone, with one student who has written a draft of a memoir. I am open to working that way with others who want to make a serious commitment to a writing project. The women I met at Shakopee have a lot to say that could enlighten the rest of us.