11th Annual Public Reading: Hope

November 12, 2016: Another memorable reading, another satisfyingly diverse bouquet of stories shared and another “captive” audience. This year’s reading has been amplified by being turned into Episode #96 on the site “Life of the Law.” You can hear a selection of seven stories from the twenty-two read on Saturday, and the rest will eventually be posted there as well. Here is the whole collection of stories, if you want to read along while you listen, or read the ones not posted yet.

Here is an excerpt from one of the comments I received, this one from my friend Jennifer:

“I went to the reading today — my second time — and was again left with a feeling of expansive love for the human beings who suffer tremendous pain in this world yet still search for and find their best selves and then offer them up to those individuals who are capable of receiving them. Love is the only word for the feeling. Expansive love.

Some, but not all, of these individuals committed terrible crimes. As one attendee pointed out after the event, they didn’t get there alone. Whether the destination is wealth and accomplishment or poverty or prison, nobody gets to their destination on their own. We treat incarcerated folks as if they did get there on their own, and as if they are disposable. Incapable of full humanity. But I can tell you, humanity abounds in the writers at San Quentin.

I never would have guessed that a prison visit could be uplifting, but this event is.”

And here’s what I said to introduce the writers:

These are difficult times, scary times in the world. I have had a number of conversations in the last few days with friends who are feeling that the future feels murky and unsettled. There’s nothing like coming inside prison to help put things in perspective. It may seem a strange place to look for hope in troubled times, but I consistently find resilience, humor, perseverance, and wisdom in the context of this class that sustains me.

A few years ago, we had a couple of wonderful visits from the writer Junot Díaz and he honored us by writing a foreword to one of our anthologies. Here is some of what he said:

“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.”

I hope that you find yourself challenged, entertained, and moved as you listen to these stories and excerpts from stories. Thank you so much for making the time to come and listen today. Listening well, I believe, is one of the best forms of love.

It was great to have our guest writer Mike Larsen there to read the foreword he wrote for our upcoming anthology, to have Nancy Mullane there recording it all for Life of the Law, Peter Merts once again taking his beautiful portraits, and  so many attentive guests.

Peter’s photos of the day can be seen here. Here’s a taste, to get a flavor for this lovely day.

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About Brothers In Pen

Brothers in Pen is the collective name of the Wednesday Night Creative Writing Class at San Quentin State Prison facilitated by Zoe Mullery.
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