115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Partners on the Inside: Connecting the First Year Writing Classroom and the Prison Classroom through Writing

Alfredo Roman-Rodriguez, California State University, Los Angeles

Using my personal experience as a first-year composition instructor, and my role as a writing center coordinator for Lancaster State Prison’s in-person BA program, my paper explores how connecting the composition classroom with the incarcerated men, through writing, can help students understand vulnerability as essential positive element of writing. 

Proposal: 

In her article “Writing Shame,” Elspeth Probyn claims, “writing is a corporeal activity.  We work ideas through our bodies; we write through our bodies, hoping to get into the bodies of our readers” (Probyn 76).  It makes sense, then, why many First Year Writing (FYW) students view writing as such an intimidating task.  Writing is a direct representation of ourselves because, like Probyn states, we write through our bodies.  Understanding that writing is a corporeal act helps highlight the vulnerability that comes with writing against the stigma of being less-than. 

My experiences as a writing center coordinator for California State Prison, Lancaster's in-person BA program, and my experience as a  FYW instructor at California State University, Los Angeles have both revealed some very important similarities between the incarcerated men and my composition students.  Mainly I found that through writing, and participating in writing process, both communities of writers became entangled even though neither of them was thinking or even aware of the other.  I also became blatantly aware of other similarities that these two populations had in common, aside from their ethnically diverse demographic makeup.  The FYW students at Cal State Los Angeles and the incarferated men I with whom I worked are systematically oppressed, which adds to their already vulnerable state as writers. Both groups are at risk of having their voices silenced by this vulnerability. Academic writing is often misunderstood by first year college students (and the incarcerated men) as an enigmatic activity that happens in isolation, which is often why there is so much anxiety and resistance present in the composition classroom. My paper will explore how connecting the composition classroom with the incarcerated men, through writing, can help students understand that writing anxiety is something that all writers experience, and to view this vulnerability as an essential positive element of writing. 

To make my point as clearly as possible, I plan to ouline my paper into two sections: in part one I set up the theoretical framework for my conceptualization of vulnerability, and in part two I plan to connect this theory to my experience of working with incarcerated men from California State Prison, Lancaster, and First Year Writing students from Cal State LA.