My name is Kathleen Marie Donovan and I currently exchange letters and creative writing with prisoners serving long sentences in my home state of Florida. It was, initially, my prime service to my community, but as I go along, I find that the impact of this exchange is farther reaching: my writers and I are interacting in a fundamental way where all sources of differentiation cease and we are human beings expressing and empathizing with shared emotions, learning new things about each other and ourselves, understanding that the pieces that we put on paper are important and appreciated…sometimes, for the first time in our lives. And we are changed.
I fell into this way very by accident, after being interrupted while reading the international newspapers by a “Find Your Classmates” pop-up ad, 26AUG07. Ever the skeptic, and welcoming a break from dire unrest in the EU and economic turmoil worldwide, I typed in a couple names of former classmates, expecting nothing at all to happen and nothing did. So I tried another search engine, anticipating another negative result, and instead found a former classmate’s name strewn across the page in several legal documentation links referencing the Florida Department of Corrections,. The initial search had failed because the engine was searching the homogeneous suburban background of perfect attendance records and straight teeth, not where I had grown up amongst Miami’s cyclone-fenced Marielitos (or, as Fidel Castro most poignantly termed these Cuban immigrants wishing to join their prosperous, now-American family members, “Los Gusanos,” or “The Worms”) and Carol City survivors.
The two classmates I found were ones who helped me, a relatively well behaved girl with a penchant for truancy, negotiate the hallways, bathrooms and classrooms of an alternative junior high “opportunity” school where the most commendable student in attendance had been sent for pushing his pregnant teacher down a flight of stairs. Here were, I’ve only recently come to know via letters and poetry, kids who were willing victims of sexual abuse simply for the attention; kids who hustled and covered for alcoholic parents for whom they amounted to only the value of an extra allotment of food stamps. So these children are serving lifetime sentences now, not surprisingly.
I write to change our lives: person by person, poem by poem. I’ve recently applied to graduate school as a Master of Fine Arts/Poetry candidate after years of indecision about whether to pursue a more lucrative Master of Business Administration degree in which I have no interest although, God knows, I’ve tried. I intend to bring writing to those who would, otherwise, be marginalized in society, those considered as having nothing of value to impart — at-risk youth, prisoners, the aged, illiterate. My hope is to share writing as a way of understanding self worth and adding creative expression to the world. I hope that writing will change others’ lives as it has changed mine.For writing offered me a safe haven and self esteem when I was left to my own device by people who, I’m sure, cared, but didn’t know what to do, or didn’t have the resources to do it.
All of us only have any of us to rely on. I’ve learned this on my protracted journey toward adulthood, and I will make this learning my primary contribution to the peers of my past and the people we’ve become.