Interview with Deb Olin Unferth about Pen City Writers


Umm, Deb Olin Unferth, and i am a creative writing professor. We met to talk about your book that came out about, uh, a project in – and i wanted to ask you how to pronounce the, location of the institution that’s in the title? Oh, uh, Connolly, yeah. And that is a part of a prison? It’s, um, so the prisons in Texas all, are all in different locations, and they each have their own names – they’re just, they’re called ” ____ Unit”. This is the Connolly Unit. I used to teach at a maximum security prison in, um, Connecticut through the Center for Prison Education, which is attached to Wesleyan University, which is where i used to teach, and then when i came here, i really wanted to do – i wanted to continue that, because i really liked it a lot, and so i came here, and i thought i would teach in the prison program, but it turns out that there wasn’t a prison program. I met with- i met with an activist who, um, used to be an inmate, and now he does various kinds of initiatives for people who are, um, leaving prison or are currently in prison, and he told me, um – because i was like i think i’ll just go to the local jail, and do a workshop and he said, don’t go to the Austin jail, because they’re so overserved. They’ve got so many workshops and so much programming and he said, why don’t you go one that’s way out in the middle of nowhere that no one goes to, like a maximum security prison? well, my dad got very involved in prison uh, advocacy, years and years ago, a very long time ago, and, um, i was already not living at home at that point, and so i kind of missed out on it all, but i kept- i was always really interested, so when i would come home, you know, he would talk about it, and then my mom and my brother also got pretty involved, so everybody was sort of pretty involved except for me, and i always kind of felt bad about that, and then, so then when i had the opportunity, when i got the job at Wesleyan, um, when i got the offer i was looking around on the website to try and decide if i wanted to take the job, because i already had a job that i really liked, they had this great prison program, and that was a real plus, i was very excited. it’s just, i guess, like, i just, i really believe in the power of education to change lives. so, i, um, i feel like writing and reading teaches you empathy, it helps you learn how to think, it – it just – you can use it in anything you do – like, no matter who you are, no matter what you end up doing with your life, i mean if you can read and write, you will advance. um, and i feel, also, like what they say is important – i mean, i don’t think- i think that the prison system is a mess in this country, and, um, i think that valuable, precious lives are being, just, thrown away in prison, and i think they have a lot to say, and so, for that reason i really want to try to do whatever i can. Yeah, i give them exercises that they have to do, and – so they do a lot of exercises, and they do longer pieces. so, um, i do things like, describe the light in a room any room you’ve actually been in, you know? or, um, yeah i have – i gave them one exercise that was, um, important instructions and then they just had to go from there. and then some of the short ones, it’s good because, i mean, they just come up with really amazing things. um, oh, one of them was, write a story about leaving, i think, and so i think its the second story in there, um, so he wrote about leaving – being in an old police car and leaving the courtroom after having just gotten his sentence – you know, which was some insane sentence, like fifty years or something – and, so, just watch – leaving his town for the last time and, like, watching, watching out the window and knowing he’ll never see any of this again, because he was already old enough that, you know, he’s not gonna probably make it out.

One thought on “Interview with Deb Olin Unferth about Pen City Writers

  1. Jason. ,Mr.Slinky" stab my Friend to death…wont admit it…so in his sentencing. He got 50 years and is forbidden from ever coming back to SA..He murdered a 15 year old on his birthday…So in 2045. Happy New Year 2019…26 more years.till …

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