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David Garlock, a prison reform advocate, speaks about the
need to better prepare inmates for release by providing educational and
other services during their incarceration.
Delaware third-year Honors student Maggie Buckridge read what is known
as an I-Poem to an audience in a campus classroom recently, sharing her
research on the justice system and former prisoners’ re-entry into the
community in a novel way.
Buckridge is a member of a research team led by Chrysanthi Leon,
associate professor of sociology and criminal justice, women and gender
studies and legal studies. The team’s work encompasses such challenging
topics as crime, law, gender and justice — from the experiences of sex
workers to controversies about prison reform.
“The issues I research are often hard to understand, unpopular,
complicated, dense and just generally difficult to access or make
ourselves hear," Leon said.
But because she knows it's important for the wider community, beyond academics and policy makers, to hear about this work, her team is using poetry to make their qualitative research accessible. They've turned hundreds of hour os interviews and focus group transcripts into I-Poems, using the participants' own words to share their experiences.
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
Senior Maggie Buckridge reads from an I-Poem.
Each line of the poem begins with "I" and is taken exclusively from the research transcripts and constructed into its final poetic form.
“Crafting these poems helped us to understand a variety of diverse perspectives and experiences,” according to the I-Poem Project website. “We hope that reading the I-Poems similarly shapes your understanding of our participants’ beliefs and lives.”
One poem from the project begins: “I have been changed; I have been
sexually abused; I fought back; I protected myself.” Later, it
continues: “I was sentenced; I found grace; I got an education; I got
out; I gave back; I educated; I reformed; I changed; I fight for reform
The poem concludes: “I have rehabilitated; I have re-entered; I was a
felon; I broke the trauma to prison pipeline; I am successful.”.
At the public event held in UD’s Memorial Hall on April 26, the
audience heard several other examples of I-Poems and then engaged with
two guest speakers who told their own stories about re-entering the
community after serving prison terms.
Chrysanthi Leon explains the I-Poem process.
“How many years of school did you have before starting college? Was
it more than three months?” David Garlock asked the students in the
Garlock, who served 13 years of a murder sentence for killing the
person who abused him, went on to tell the students that of course 12
years of education is considered necessary to prepare for college.
He contrasted that with the brief period most prisons spend on
preparing an inmate for release. Instead of waiting until a month or two
before release — and most inmates will, indeed, be released at some
point, he noted — the process of re-entry preparation should begin very
early in a person’s sentence, he said.
“We need better programming” in prisons, to offer educational
opportunities and to help inmates deal with their own trauma and to find
the resources they need, Garlock said. “We need counselors who are
actually there to help people.”
Garlock, who was featured in the movie Just Mercy, was
released on parole in 2013, earned his bachelor’s degree and now works
with the New Person Ministries re-entry program and as a member of the
Pennsylvania Reentry Council.
Corie Priest, a community engagement specialist with the Delaware
Department of Justice, talks about his own experiences in prison and
re-entering the community.
Also speaking at the UD event was Corie Priest, a community engagement specialist with Delaware’s Department of Justice.
Drawing on his experience of serving time in prison for trafficking
marijuana, Priest said he works to help connect people in need with
community resources. Many are former inmates who are battling addiction
or mental health issues.
“In prison [after serving two years, he was released in 2009], I
found a lot of smart, funny, talented people,” Priest said, adding that
many just need help with the re-entry process. In his case, he said, he
made the experience of being incarcerated “purposeful” by taking classes
and expanding his awareness of the world.
“We need more people with these experiences to help reform the criminal justice system,” he said.
The event at UD, titled “Prison Re-entry: Conversation, Poetry and
Action,” was sponsored by the Honors College, Department of Sociology
and Criminal Justice and the Lattice Project, a registered student
Leon, who is deputy dean of the Honors College, is a founding member
of the Center for the Study and Prevention of Gender-based Violence at
UD. She is an interdisciplinary scholar in penology, law and society
whose research and teaching address sex crime and punishment, sex work
and the prison system; she teaches in a local women’s prison.
Student researchers working with Leon on the current I-Poem project
are Clara Mey, Fran Moreno and Molly Hill and Honors students Maggie
Buckridge, Jules Lowman, Michaela Herdoíza and Lawson Schultz. Previous
team members include Lena Abboud and Jordan Mullikin.
Article by Ann Manser; photos by Maria Errico
Published May 16, 2022