Women on Rikers Island Use Poetry as an Escape, Publish Collective Work
With golf pencils and paper in hand, a small group of women gather once a week in a small room for a writer’s workshop, encouraged to write what’s on their mind.
Only this room has bars on the windows.
The women are inmates at the Rose M. Singer Center at Rikers Island, and the workshop is their escape. The golf pencils are used because anything bigger could be considered a weapon.
On Tuesday, they celebrated their third book of work, reading excerpt poetry and some new pieces as well from inside a class-room-like auditorium at the prison.
“It’s peace of mind. You basically get out of jail for a couple hours, you get to put your thoughts on paper,” said Leanna Franco, 26, who has participated in the workshop for about six of her eight months there. “You look out the window and you see gates, but the time that you’re in here it’s like you’re not behind the gates.”
Franco said she writes about her past, her future, and is struck by how much she and her fellow inmates have in common.
“A lot of times we’re writing about the same stuff,” said Franco, originally from the Bronx. “It’s nice.”
Marina Abramchuk, 28, joined the workshop about a month ago, and said she usually writes poetry.
“I like writing, expressing myself,” said Abramchuk, originally from Brooklyn. “It’s hard to talk to people around here. It’s the one time of the week I can get away from all the drama and the craziness.”
The program is run by the NY Writers Coalition and Deborah Clearman, who has been running workshops at the women’s prison since 2011. Clearman edited the book of prose, “Can You Feel the Free in Me,” which is available on Amazon.