First Day at OSP: Cole Altuzarra

MeetColeI was very excited by the opportunity to teach poetry to inmates at the Oregon State Penitentiary this past fall. I had never interacted with inmates before and had not heard much from many people that had. I talked to Rei about his experiences but he always just seemed so cool about what he was doing – like working with inmates inside a penitentiary was no big deal. Because I really didn’t know what to expect interacting with inmates, Rei’s relaxed attitude toward his experiences gave me confidence going in.
My emotions shifted as going inside the penitentiary become more real. I will never forget the moments leading up to entering the prison for my first time – going through security, waiting in between barred doorways, checking in at various identification points – my excitement turned to nervousness. Standing locked between doorways with no way out, I realized that once I was in, I was in. I was most concerned by the realization that I’d be trapped inside the facility; I felt claustrophobic. This made me anxious and I nearly panicked out of control. I focused on breathing deeply and stabilized my thoughts. Rei was right there to comfort me with his confidence. We entered the penitentiary.
Once inside we made our way up to the recreation floor and waited for class to begin. Inmates began coming in one-by-one. Before I knew it they were introducing themselves to me and seemed excited to see a new face in their class. I was blown away by the kindness I felt in the room. Everyone was respectful and the inmates enjoyed spending time with each other in class. And their poetry was incredible! It was absolutely amazing to hear and even feel the inmates passionately recite their poems!
I’ve since gone back in one more time and look forward to learning more about poetry with these wonderful human beings in the future!

CGIU Recap: Eyes Wide, Heart Open, Words Ready

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I think it was sometime during Bill Clinton’s second talk that it hit me how awesome this event was. I looked up at the blue stage and saw the bright lights, looked to my right and left and saw all the young, attentive faces. I was in a room full of people who were not only hungry to make a difference, but who had turned that hunger into something awesome, something that was already changing the lives of those around the world.

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Colbert was also present!

I met students from Greece, Iran, Cameroon and a smattering of people from different states all across the U.S. They were some of the most impressive young men and women I have ever had the privilege to meet. Some of them were interested in creating their own chapters of Prisoner’s Poetry at their schools, and all of us on the Prisoner’s Poetry team are excited at the thought of spreading our mission of rehabilitation through self expression to other parts of the U.S! I felt honored and amazed–not even a year into this amazing project and already Prisoner’s Poetry was being accepted and invited to something as inspiring as the Clinton Global Initiative University. It gives me so much hope for the future of our budding organization, so much more to look forward to. I know our influence and scope is set to become larger than any of us can even dream.

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A look behind the scenes

In the end, as cool as attending the CGIU was, it’s more awesome to think about the lives we’ve touched with our work. To measure success in how many men feel like the outside world actually cares about them, how many voices were given a platform to express their innermost feelings, how many community members can go online and see the work of brilliant and honest individuals. These men have shared their souls with us, stanza by stanza, word for word, and we at Prisoner’s Poetry are committed to sharing their artistic souls with the world and changing the perception of the prison community. After attending the CGIU, we have nothing left to do but work even harder to spread our mission. We owe it to these men and we owe it to ourselves, for the greater good of the world, for the greater good of the never ending quest for social justice.

OSP Slam Poetry Recap: An Insightful Night

imageThe evening that I attended the poetry reading for the Prisoner’s Poetry class was the first time I had ever been inside a prison. I was so excited to hear first-hand from these passionate people. At first, I was nervous to go in front of all these folks and speak, but the student who volunteered first was so confident and entertaining, that I instantly became comfortable. It was a chance in a lifetime to be able to engage with strangers and share a love for words. The beauty of it was that the only thing that had connected us was this passion for language; otherwise I wouldn’t have gained such meaningful insight.

OSP Slam Poetry Recap: A Fitting Finale

reynaldo_250It came out of nowhere! All of a sudden Rei was up there in front of the class—RAPPING. I couldn’t believe that my fellow co-founder, the guy I had worked on this project with for almost a year was up there spitting verses like it was nobody’s business! After he was done, he collected himself and sat back down quietly, his calm demeanor once again becoming his dominant personality. I sat there mouth agape and clapping furiously. The Poetry Slam with the OSP students and the Willamette students was an unforgettable night. The students were so happy to have visitors come and hear their work. You could tell a few of them were nervous but they had practiced and practiced and all of them came with a righteous fire. We heard poems about prison life, love, solitary confinement, addiction, and family. After the slam Rei and I presented them with the certificates of completion for successfully completing another semester of Prisoner’s Poetry. It was a moving night to have the students come up one by one and thank us for attending the slam and taking the time to come out and see and teach them every week. It’s been a wild ride, but Prisoner’s Poetry continues to grow at a rapid rate, with nothing but positive things in store for the future. I can’t wait to see where this program is a year from now. But, I do know one thing for sure, and that’s that the end of the year slam from the spring of 2013 will go down in all of our memories for many years to come.

OSP Slam Poetry Recap: Heartwarming Welcomes

IMG_4121My heart was really full after the three hours we spent inside the Oregon State Penitentiary. I didn’t expect the students to be so welcoming, so warm, so hospitable, and so encouraging. I think it speaks to the work Rey and Rei have done in the past year and the relationship they’ve built with their students. It isn’t a poetry teacher and student relationship, it’s a friendship—and there’s a trust that they extended onto the rest of the Prisoner Poetry team. I am even more excited and more passionate about our project and can’t wait to get back in there with them.

OSP Slam Poetry Recap: Slamming Words, Mixing Worlds

rei1Bang! Boom! Bachow! Alliterative onomatopoeia is the simplest way for me to illustrate how my poetic neurons were accelerating at the point when I heard the Prisoner’s Poetry students and team members perform their poems in the Oregon State Penitentiary. As I reflect about our time in the Activities Floor, I realized that, during that point in time, we were not just sharing simple verbs and nouns; we were experiencing two worlds colliding at speeds that caused my mind to be in the realm of elation. It was surreal. I’m happy I got to share this moment with the team and students.