Academic writing workshops are a way to engage new inside participants in education, foster community, and offer solid skills in writing and argumentation.
(See what I did there? It’s a pretty decent thesis statement. You’d know that if you had taken one of our workshops.)
The Prison Education Program has been developing writing workshops over the past couple of years to support current Inside-Out students in improving their confidence and to offer them some of the writing support that they could receive from on-campus resources if they were on-campus UO students. We have been developing a format that we have most successfully delivered now at Columbia River Correctional Institution: Academic Writing Parts 1 and 2.
Maybe someday we’ll create a curricular outline to share here on the website, because this is becoming a well-oiled machine. Alumni and interns engage the group in brief ice breakers before brainstorming together about the value of a well-supported argument.
Right from the beginning, we hope that the framework of a simple academic essay can help people format other writing, public speaking, and the kinds of well-thought-out opinions that can enrich our lives generally.
We then discuss the 5 paragraph essay format. The leader of the workshop is required to point out that, as a student, they had felt the 5 paragraph essay was boring and restrictive, but now they use it for everything from short homework assignments to writing an honors dissertation.
If you’re hazy on the general format, it’s:
Introduction (ending with a clear thesis statement that outlines both your argument and the evidence that you will use)
- Main point one
- Main point two
- Main point three
The workshop picks up steam from this point, and we launch into brainstorming together, organizing ideas into an outline, and crafting a thesis statement. We also discuss forms of argumentation: logos, ethos, and pathos (because a little Latin always increases the gravitas of a situation). This enables us to also talk about quality research and ways to support one’s argument.
We break into small groups for a short writing workshop together, and conclude our first session by assigning a short essay and handing out some worksheets.
For Part 2, we go over the essays assigned during Part 1, practice outlining and thesis crafting again, do a highly energizing self-editing activity that involves highlighters, and then practice small group co-writing again with a more nuanced topic.
The energy in the room at CRCI as we concluded Part 2 was incredible. We had a sense of shared accomplishment, of new ideas, and having crafted something together. Some of our CRCI participants had taken Inside-Out classes, but others had not had any school since completing their GEDs on the inside. Some people had very little experience in programs that involve outside volunteers, and were eager for a chance to talk about ideas, work collaboratively, and just “be normal.”
As we concluded the second session, one participant told us that it was his last evening in prison. It’s hard to know what to say about that, except that we are honored he felt that our workshop was the right space for him to be before heading back to the “real world”.
Our next activity at CRCI will be a book discussion, hopefully involving some of the same people who participated in the workshop – along with UO alumni and UO students at home for the summer. The leadership group, CRCI Circle, is working on guiding our future workshops and activities. The most constant critique we all share is a sense that once a month programing at CRCI is not frequent enough. We’ll see if time will fix that.