“In 1997, I sat inside a juvenile hall with my entire life in limbo. I had no control over what was going to happen to me, but I had access to a pen and blank sheets of paper. Writing down my thoughts and releasing suppressed emotions by filling those blank sheets of paper with my words was what I could control, a tool taught and given to me by a volunteer writing teacher. Later, after serving a total of 13.5 years behind California prison walls, I remember sitting in reflection and thinking about the journey I finally completed.
It was then I realized that a simple creative writing class was what saved my life.
I am now the Executive Director of InsideOUT Writers, a nonprofit organization that has taught creative writing classes to over 25,000 youth in its 23 year history, the same organization that gave me this tool to help me remember who I really was and what I was capable of accomplishing when I had nothing else. It is my greatest privilege to now lead this organization and continue reaching out to our incarcerated youth during the darkest time of their life.
It is important to remind them they are not alone or forgotten.
It is important to tell them it’s not the end of their life, but just the beginning. Finally, it’s important to stay true to our word and to be there for them once they return home. I plan on doing so for as long as I can.”
-Jimmy Wu, Executive Director, InsideOUT Writers
Since 1996, InsideOUT Writers has provided over 25,000 youth with healing-informed creative writing classes inside the world’s largest juvenile detention system. Wu, InsideOUT Writers’ first former student turned employee, has described the creative writing classes as the way he survived the criminal justice system, without falling prey or participating in disruptive or self-destructive behaviors such as substance abuse, violence, or self-injury. The programming gives individuals a voice, empowering them to share their story and channel feelings of hopelessness, anger, fear, and frustration into writing, and builds a supportive community and support network while incarcerated.
Writing and art produced by incarcerated program participants and program alumni are shared in a quarterly magazine. It also features alumni interviews, photographs, and news stories that relate to InsideOUT Writers’ work.
In addition to the programming offered to incarcerated youth, InsideOUT Writers has expanded their services to now support program alumni. Once released, InsideOUT Writers provide youth with re-entry and case management services, counseling, weekly Writing Circles, housing referrals, drug and alcohol abuse treatment assistance, parenting workshops, employment skills training, and much more. These wraparound services help to minimize recidivism rates which normally register persistently high at a national rate of 75 percent for justice-involved youth. Less than ten percent of program participants reoffend, demonstrating the program’s effectiveness in reaching at-risk individuals.
It costs $233,600 per year to incarcerate a youth, while InsideOUT Writers serves youth at just $2,272 per year. InsideOUT Writers encourages individuals who wish to support their organization to consider hosting a fundraising event for them, such as a birthday fundraiser. Learn more about InsideOUT Writers, support their programming with a financial contribution, and follow them on facebook, twitter, and Instagram.
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