By Karen Workun
When I returned home from my first night of volunteering with Poetic Justice, my husband asked about the experience. I sat in silence, processing, and was able to respond with this: “There is a world of people in our jails and prisons that we are not meant to see”. Poetic Justice is an Oklahoma based non-profit that offers restorative writing workshops to incarcerated women. The aim of Poetic Justice is to elevate the voices of women who are so often silenced and to help them find hope in a place where hope is difficult to cultivate: prison.
Oklahoma incarcerates more women per capita than any where in the world. This statistic highlights a tragically broken system. While reform efforts have gained momentum in the last two years, there is more work to be done at the policy level. Thriving, though, is the work of everyday citizens who decide to stand in the gap for incarcerated women and to try to push the needle forward, however slightly. Poetic Justice held its first class five years ago at the Tulsa County Jail. Today, we offer classes in every women’s correctional facility in the state. Each class begins with an ice breaker, deep breathing, and guided meditation. From there, we write. What spills on to the page are words of joy and pain, regret and hope, courage and wisdom. The classroom becomes a sacred space in which the women set the ground rules and encourage one another. It is a breathtaking thing to witness. Often, people ask me if volunteering in prison is scary. It isn’t. I look forward to class each week. It is a welcome time of friendship and reflection.
This collection of writing echoes what I have come to know about incarcerated women: They are wise, resilient, smart, and real. From Jax’s essay about navigating parenthood while in prison to Lisa Botone’s hashtag series that reflects on daily life on the yard, you will glimpse what the justice system actively tries to deny and what too many forget to look for: humanity.
Poetic Justice authors:
Karen Workun is a high school English teacher in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She received both her Bachelor's degree and Master's degree in English Education from the University of Oklahoma and is a National Board Certified teacher. She has volunteered with Poetic Justice since 2016. Through this work, she has seen Maya Angelou's "Human Family" manifest and fervently believes that "we are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike".