Words Is a Powerful Thing: Twenty Years Teaching Creative Writing at Douglas County Jail (University of Kansas Press, May 2021. Available on Amazon). By Brian Daldorph, University of Kent, Canterbury (1980-1983).
Brian Daldorph first entered the Douglas County Jail classroom in Lawrence, Kansas, to teach a writing class on Christmas Eve 2001. After twenty years of teaching every week at the jail, his last class at the jail for the foreseeable future was mid-March 2020, right before the Covid-19 lockdown.
His book, Words Is a Powerful Thing: Twenty Years of Teaching Creative Writing at Douglas County Jail, endorsed by American prize-winning poet Jimmy Santiago Baca and Sister Helen Prejean (author of Dead Man Walking, 1993), will be published by the University of Kansas Press in May 2021.
The book is Daldorph’s record of teaching at the jail for the two decades between 2001-2020, showing how the lives of everyone involved in the class—but especially the inmates who came to class week after week—benefitted from what happened every Thursday afternoon in that jail classroom, where for two hours inmates and instructors became a “circle of ink and blood,” writing together, reciting their poems, telling stories, and having a few good laughs.
Words Is a Powerful Thing (the title taken from an inmate poem) brings into the light the works of more than fifty gifted inmate writers whose works deserve attention. Their poetry speaks of “what really matters” to all of us and gives the reader sustained insight into the role that creativity plays in aiding survival and bringing positive change for inmates, and, in turn, for all of us.
Daldorph’s account of his teaching experience not only takes the reader inside the daily life in a county jail but also sets the work done in the writing class within the larger context of inmate education in the US corrections system, where education is one of the few lifelines available to inmates. Words Is a Powerful Thing provides a teacher’s guide for instructors working with incarcerated writers, offering an extensive examination of both the challenges and benefits of education inside the walls.
Brian Daldorph is a creative writing instructor at the University of Kansas and at Douglas County Jail. He has also taught in Japan, Zambia, Senegal, England and France. He is the author of six books of poetry including the most recent book, Kansas Poems (Meadowlark Press, 2021).
Brian Daldorph, University of Kent 1980-1983, graduated with a BA in English and American Literature. At the university, he was Chair of Student Community Action, a student group working at the Cyrenians’ homeless shelter and St. Augustine’s Psychiatric Hospital, among other places.