On Saturday, October 8th, at 12 pm, Judith Tannenbaum, coauthor of By Heart: Poetry, Prison, and Two Lives, will be facilitating a talk at San Francisco’s prestigious literary festival, Litquake. Published in 2010, By Heart is a two-person literary memoir narrating the encounter between Judith, a dedicated educator and writing instructor, and Spoon Jackson, a man who is serving a life sentence in prison. Judith and Spoon met in San Quentin when Spoon attended a poetry class taught by Judith and sponsored by the Arts-in-Corrections program. Spoon’s portions of By Heart give insight into prison life in a way that few books do, and eloquently illustrates the importance of creativity in human survival. Spoon describes finding poetry: “I had found my niche, my own humanity, through my journey, studies, and poetry. I had uncovered inside myself a way of transforming my anger, sadness, pain, and unrealness into art by embracing the moment… I had humbly become a poet.”
According to the Sentencing Project, 458 out of 100,000 people in California are incarcerated (as of 2009). In 2003, the funding for the Arts-in-Corrections program and for artists like Judith was cut even as “a pair of university studies found that participants in the AIC program had 75% fewer disciplinary actions and a 27% lower recidivism rate than the general prison population (William James Association).” Currently, thousands of prisoners are participating in rolling hunger strikes across California to protest inhumane conditions in prisons and jails around the state. Judith and Spoon and other artists and writers creating in prison settings are participating in their own form of resistance: in a system that demands conformity, these men and women are voices in the silence, demanding to be heard.
Pick up a copy of By Heart and stop by on Saturday to learn more about the flaws of our corrections system and be inspired to make a difference.