Poetry News

Words Lead to Deeds for Detroit Writer & Schoolteacher

By Harriet Staff

InsideOut Writer-in-Residence Peter Markus—who also teaches third grade in Detroit—thinks about the connection between state prisons and literacy: "I’ve heard it said—though it turns out not to be true—that prisons in our country look to State standardized reading scores of third graders in their region when calculating the number of future beds they will need to build, or free up, to house such young prisoners-to-be." From The Fanzine:

I recently received a letter from an inmate at a prison in northern Michigan, from a prisoner—Fred, who is also known by a specific six-digit number—who is serving a life sentence and has turned to poetry as an act that gives his life behind bars a new meaning.

Fred reached out to me after reading a guest column that I wrote for the Detroit Free Press, a short op-ed piece called “Why Words Matter.” He was writing to me to tell me that a friend of his had cut the article out and sent it to him, “because,” he said, “I write poetry with similar content.” He went on to write, “I’m always hoping to find connections with people in other walks of life with whom I can build [a] symbiotic relationship of resistance.” Fred quoted a sentence from my essay that he especially found to be true: “To be black is oftentimes the difference between life and death.” Fred let me know, too, that he facilitates a writing workshop inside the prison for other inmates like himself who need to be reminded that, regardless of their present situation, they still have a voice that wants to be heard. “We make new poetry,” he wrote, “poetry that demands more from the political, not poetry that answers it.” He added, “We attempt to use our creative expression to support and liberate the oppressed… The prison system itself inherently needs us to continue breaking laws in order to legitimize its existence. We must demonstrate [to his fellow inmates] that putting in positive work [writing poetry] has its rewards, otherwise how can we be surprised when they return to our community and sell drugs, rob, and hurt people?”

Read on here.

Originally Published: March 14th, 2018