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Prison Rights Now Include Prison Writes; VOX Embraces Mississippi Inmates

The Prison Writes Initiative – launched in 2014 by VOX Press executive director Louis Bourgeois as the sole liberal arts program for Mississippi inmates at Parchman Penitentiary – continues to thrive as it heads into its third year giving voice to inmates who might have otherwise remained silent.

According to its website, VOX Press was founded as a literary journal and continues to publish works of experimental literature, chronicling important voices outside of traditional publishing.

Louis Bourgeois (back), instructor of the Prison Writes Initiative, holds class with inmates at Parchman Penitentiary
Louis Bourgeois (back), instructor of the Prison Writes Initiative, holds class with inmates at Parchman Penitentiary
Staying true to that commitment, the Prison Writes Initiative unquestionably falls within the parameters of VOX’s mission statement.

In its infancy, the Prison Writes Initiative catered to male inmates and successfully steered 30 participants to graduation, a number that is expected to double by June 2016, according to Bourgeois.

With continued support and the popularity of Prison Writes, growth and participation was inevitable.

“In January, we are adding a class at the Tutwiler facility down the road from Parchman and we’re also adding a class at the Holly Springs prison. That will be a total of five classes in four different prisons,” Bourgeois said. “I’ve taught writing and philosophy in many settings, but teaching in prison is by far the most rewarding experience to date.”

No longer exclusively reaching male inmates, Bourgeois has extended The Prison Writes Initiative to other prisons and target groups around Mississippi.

“This fall, we added two more classes – one for youth inmates and one for women inmates – at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility near Jackson,” Bourgeois said.

The stories penned by participating inmates for the two semester classes are not only assessed, graded and lauded – they are published in volumes by VOX Press.

The first edition, a collection of assignments titled In Our Own Words (Vox Press, 2014) was a great success, one that allowed VOX to continue its Prison Writes program through year two.

Following that success, VOX is offering volume two; Unit 30: Writing from Parchman Farm.

“Profits from sales of volume two are no less important for the continuation of the program,” Bourgeois said.

“Due to press deadlines, volume two will not include the youth and women inmates,” Bourgeois added. “Those will appear in volume three. We are trying as hard as possible to release volume two before Christmas. However, if that deadline isn’t met, it will certainly be released by early-January.”

Prison Writes in session
Prison Writes in session
In a VOX Press and Prison Writes feature written in March of this year by Callie Daniels, senior managing editor at HottyToddy.com, Bourgeois was tasked with giving a concise explanation of why VOX has so vehemently embraced this program. His answer; “I wanted to put together a Prison Writing/Art program because I believe in the individual worth of all people.”

Kudos, sir.

Of course, none of the above would be possible without outstanding support of VOX and the Prison Writes Initiative.

Bourgeois closed by adding, “We would like to thank the people and institutions who have helped us grow over the years with the Mississippi Humanities Council as our main sponsor. Others who have helped include the COX Foundation, Plum Creek Foundation, the R&B Feder Charitable Foundation for the Beaux-arts, the Barksdale Reading Institute, Elodie Prichartt, Harley Garrett, Toni Coleman, Sabra Laumbach, the Oxford Unitarian Church, and the Charleston First United Methodist Mission.”

For more information about VOX Press, Inc, visit its website voxpress.org. From there, interested readers can link directly to the Prison Writes Initiative page. Or, visit VOX Press on its Facebook page at facebook.com/groups/voxpressinc. Either of these sites offer instructions on the purchase of the Prison Writes participants’ volumes of prose.

The Prison Writes Institute is a division of VOX PRESS, INC., a non-profit art and education group based in Oxford, Mississippi. All donations are tax deductible

Jeff McVay is a staff writer and graphic designer for Hottytoddy.com. He can be reached at jeff.mcvay@hottytoddy.com.

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