Poets and Prisons

“I am from islands remote and untouched
from history sung
from genealogies passed down through generations.
I am from a place of no written word.”

–From Origin by Moana

Voices from Inside is an organization based in Western Massachusetts that brings writing workshops to women in prison and formerly incarcerated women. Moana, who participated in the program and now teaches the workshops, came to StoryCorps to record a conversation with her daughter. A keeper of journals her whole life, Moana wrote her first poem in prison and found it to be “an avenue to speak deeply about yourself which doesn’t expose too much of yourself.”

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Moana and daughter Jillian after making her recording in Greenfield, MA

Several states away in Tampa, Florida, poet Lizz Straight hosts a weekly radio show called “Poetry Is . . .” Lizz learned that her voice had been reaching a dedicated listenership at a nearby state prison when she received an invitation from the inmates to perform her poetry. At her first performance, she stood alone at the microphone, looking out at the 1,400 prisoners gathered in the yard to listen who appeared like a “sea of orange.” Their attention and enthusiasm helped inspire Lizz to organize an annual tour to multiple facilities around Florida with a group of poets. These experiences have reminded her of the deep connection between word and empowerment: “A lot of people firmly believe that what we speak out into the world comes to fruition. Poets are powerful people in the world . . . we tell the stories . . .”

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Lance Newman and Lizz Straight at the MobileBooth in Tampa, FL


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4 Responses to “Poets and Prisons”

To preserve the StoryCorps mission and experience for our readers and participants, comments are subject to the StoryCorps Terms of Service. Comments may be held for moderation or removed if deemed offensive or off-topic. Please do not resubmit your comment if you don't see it right away, it will be approved as soon as possible. Thank you.

  • Yes, the power of the word, yours and theirs.

    Comment from Christy and Katherine on January 15, 2009 at 11:38 am - Reply to this Comment
  • Powerful poets.

    I think I’ll send a link to this blog entry to the Hendersons. The power of words, and especially poetry. Moana’s remark about finding poetry a way to express yourself without feeling exposed is muy interesting.

    Comment from CAC on January 14, 2009 at 10:10 pm - Reply to this Comment
  • Great blog, Anna. These sounds like amazing interviews. Thanks for sharing.

    Comment from Chaela on January 9, 2009 at 9:47 pm - Reply to this Comment
  • Northeast, Southeast, we’re all connected through stories. Great post!

    Comment from Whitney on January 6, 2009 at 7:55 pm - Reply to this Comment

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