Brothers in Pen on Wanda’s Picks, Friday, Sept. 12, 8 a.m.

Wanda-SabirWanda Sabir, radio host and journalist for the Bay View newspaper, among other things, has invited some of the participants in next week’s BAN7 event to be interviewed on her internet radio show, Wanda’s Picks, this Friday. You can listen live and call in to ask questions too! Please join us from 8 a.m to 8:30 a.m. Friday, September 12 to hear Charles Talib Brooks, Henry Montgomery, Jerry Elster, Carl Irons, Ernie Laszlo, and possibly others talk about their experiences in the Prison Arts Program and about their lives.

To listen, go to website To call in, the number is 347-237-4610.

UPDATE: The interview is now available online if you missed it!

Wanda Sabir is a Bay Area activist, journalist, and creative writer—poetry and fiction. She hosts a bi-weekly radio show, publishes a monthly African Diaspora-centered calendar, and reviews film, theatre, literature and performance art via A columnist in the San Francisco Bay View Newspaper where she is Arts Editor, she has covered the arts scene for over 25 years. She is primarily interested in art for social change. She believes artists are the true revolutionaries, their work filled with raw uninhibited passion. She co-founded; it is an on-going healing ritual for people of African Descent. Her daytime gig is teaching composition to community college students.


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Brothers in Pen at YBCA and our Annual Public Reading

There are two events coming up for Brothers in Pen. First, the Prison Arts Project has been featured in the BAN7 show at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and the Creative Writing class is participating in the event by having a reading on September 18.  Some former members of the class who are now un-incarcerated will be there to read stories of those still inside, followed by time for Q&A. It’s very exciting to be part of this YBCA show, so please come out and listen! You will also be able to take a look at the visual exhibit if you haven’t seen it already.
Time: 6 – 7 p.m.
Location: Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission St., SF (Mission and Third St.)

Second, we now have a date for our Brothers in Pen Annual Public Reading! Please mark your calendars for Saturday, November 15, 11:30 a.m. -3:30 p.m. if you want to have the extraordinary opportunity of coming inside San Quentin to attend a reading of works by the Creative Writing class. Each member of the class will read a 5-minute piece and there will be time for Q&A. If you have ever attended one of these public readings, you know what an engaging, lively and unforgettable event this is. Please contact me at brothersinpen at yahoo dotcom if you want to attend.

And just a reminder that there is a new book in the Brothers in Pen series… collect them all!

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New collection of Brothers in Pen stories!

For those of you who were at the Annual Public Reading on July 13, 2013, you have heard these already. Now these short 5-minute readings given by the Wednesday Night Creative Writing Class are available in print. We’ve put together a small anthology of these readings with photos of each of the authors.
If you purchase and read one, please be encouraged to comment on this blog or review on the Lulu website where the book is available:
The book is available in paperback or for immediate pdf download.

BIP 2013 Readings Anth front cover only

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Alcatraz Past Tense

The May 18 “Telling Our Stories” event at Alcatraz was lovely. We had a great turnout on a beautiful day. Our four readers, Henry “MC” Montgomery, Ernie Laszlo, Jimmy Carlin, and Rolf Kissman read four stories/excerpts which you can read for yourself: BIP Readings for Alcatraz 5-18-14.

Here’s a slideshow of the day:


thanks to photographer Peter Martin!
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Alcatraz hosts the Brothers on May 18

Telling Our Stories:
Readings from San Quentin’s Brothers in Pen

We will meet at Pier 33 at noon on Sunday, May 18 and ride over together on the 12:30 ferry. Your reservation will include your ferry ride. Once we’re on the island, we’ll walk up to the “Telling Our Stories” art exhibit featuring current San Quentin Prison Arts Project artwork, writing samples, and photos of inmate writers by Peter Merts. The walk-through the exhibit will be guided by teachers currently working inside San Quentin. After the exhibit, our group will go to the Cellblock Dining Hall for a 2-3 PM reading of Brothers-in-Pen stories by former inmates and me (Zoe Mullery). Question and answer time will follow.

After the reading, you are free to explore the island; boats return approximately every 30 minutes with the last boat leaving at 6:30.

Get your tickets here!

“…let these stories, these poems, these testimonies, these songs from behind bars, serve ever to remind us of the people we are locking up—men and women who are, for all that they have done and that has been done to them, our brothers and sisters. Let these writings serve ever to remind us of the distance we have yet to travel, as a society, as a race. Let these words keep us company; let them comfort us; let them guide us and teach us and warn us and scold us; let these words remind us of who we are and who we could be, until that astonishing day dawns when we are ready to take that first step out of darkness and into light.”

- Junot Díaz, Foreword to the anthology “Brothers in Pen: Six Cubic Feet”

For more about the exhibit and San Quentin Prison Arts Project:

For information on parking, accessibility and more about visiting Alcatraz:

Get your tickets now!

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Radio loves Brothers in Pen

Brothers in Pen supporter Rose Elizondo texted me the other day: “Gazzeny’s on the radio!” I tuned in to KPFA to hear Andrew Gazzeny ruminating on what writer Luis Rodriguez said when he visited our class: “Write until it scares you.” Click here to listen to the show “Making Contact – Shh!: Words vs. Bars: How Prison Poets Escape.”

Prison Poetry Workshop also aired a show with audio from last summer’s Brothers in Pen Annual Public Reading. The show also features Andrew Gazzeny, as well as Emile DeWeaver and Luke Padgett. Prison Poetry Workshop has lots of thoughtful, moving pieces from inside many American prisons, honoring the work of numerous prison poets and writers. Thanks to Rend Smith and Andrew Parsons for putting it together, and also for persisting in helping me get the video of Junot Díaz from his 2011 visit out from behind the razor wire.

Radio station KALW once again explores the subject of prison arts

I have been remiss in sharing the link from the wonderful show KALW reporter Kyung Jin Lee created  last March, “Will Prison Arts Programs Make a Comeback in California?” She spent an evening with us and put together a thoughtful piece, stirring together some of the history of prison arts with a taste of the work being shared in class that night. Please take a moment to listen to it (it’s also available on the KALW website as a transcript).


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Junot Diaz speaks from the past!

Yes, Junot Diaz came to visit our class… in 2011. He was amazing. He was inspiring. He talked about character triangulation, and Superman, and creating worlds. We were spellbound, as we were the first time he visited in 2009. Due to circumstances beyond all control, our visit with Junot was extremely short, maybe an hour or so… but it got FILMED. Junot wrote a foreword to our anthology, a proclamation, an affirmation, a strong and passionate vision. He read it out loud in front of us, on camera, beautiful.

And then began the work of trying to get that bit of recorded inspiration, either whole or in part, through the gates.

I must admit that I got discouraged somewhere along the way and stopped trying. But then Rend Smith from Prison Poetry Workshop found out about it and wanted to do a story on it, and kept asking me if there was any chance of getting a hold of the audio, or the video, or any part of it, so I started asking again. I started asking harder in September, and now, February 13, 2013, only a little over 2-1/2 years since Junot was with us, I have it! Or at least 12 minutes that Troy, our intrepid San Quentin filmmaker, was able to put together.

The first part is Junot sharing his perspective on stories. He calls Superman “America’s quintessential immigrant. He thinks he is human and then discovers he’s not… It’s a peculiar kind of American optimism, that someone would actually show up to your place, and he’s 5 mllion times stronger than you, but he would be very helpful and very kind. ” (At one point while talking about Superman he mentions this unknown story called John Carter that pre-dated the Superman story. Junot was telling us this in 2011, and then the huge John Carter movie came out in 2012.)

He gives some advice to the class: “You guys should look at each other’s pieces and circle the places where the person builds the world. That’s really what you’re about. Circle where the world gets built…” He talks about how people “don’t exist in our brain outside of relationships” and how we need to look for and describe the ways the relationships exist in triangles.

Right around 7:53 he starts reading the foreword. How is it that I never posted the foreword here?

Junot Díaz
Foreword to the anthology “Brothers in Pen: Six Cubic Feet”
One can understand why so many of us out in the world would rather not hear from the voices within our prison system.  After all, ours is a society that has still not sussed out a humane way to administer justice or to enable rehabilitation; as anyone who has had any involvement will tell you, our carceral system is by any estimation deeply flawed and at times impossibly cruel. Summoning the will, however, political or otherwise, for comprehensive reform is a Sisyphean struggle.  Many sectors rely on the prison system for incomes and electoral margins and these vested interests do not wish to see the current system changed.  And given the political climate, what politician would dare to broach the subject?
As for the public, well, the public in the main does not want to see the system change. For change first requires assessment and assessment would mean we would eventually have to listen to people that we have long grown used to not listening to.  We on the outside fear those voices, those behind-bar voices, not simply because they are the voices of criminals, because among these voices are men and women who have committed shocking crimes against our society. We fear those voices because of what they tell us about our nation and because of what they tell us about ourselves.  As a society we luxuriate in a belief that we are good—and this good can mask a perverse, unreasoning desire to punish, a fundamental lack of compassion when it comes to those behind bars.  By keeping the prison system as far away from us as possible, we can maintain the myth of our unvarnished goodness, without having to examine the reality of our almost medieval need to see others punished. We can play at being good without ever actually having to live up to those standards.
To heed the voices within our prison system, as a society, would mean that we would learn things about ourselves we would otherwise prefer to keep locked up. And in learning these things we would change not only our societal systems but our deepest selves.
It is perhaps too early to hope for such impossible things. Or as some would have it: perhaps it is too late. I still believe that despite all the ills of our species, one day the change will come, the change that will make us truly the good beings we claim to be: beings that do not fear voices from the margin, but who welcome them.
Until that impossible day comes, let these stories, these poems, these testimonies, these songs from behind bars, serve ever to remind us of the people we are locking up—men and women who are, for all that they have done and that has been done to them, our brothers and sisters. Let these writings serve ever to remind us of the distance we have yet to travel, as a society, as a race. Let these words keep us company; let them comfort us; let them guide us and teach us and warn us and scold us; let these words remind us of who we are and who we could be, until that astonishing day dawns when we are ready to take that first step out of darkness and into light.
Junot Díaz
March 1, 2011

I think that is enough said for now.

Thanks to Junot for caring, and to to Troy for putting the video together, and to Rend for wanting to see it, and to Rose for getting Junot to visit…
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