by Naomi Rachel, JAC Volunteer – with Gary Farlow and Caddell Kivett
After working with incarcerated poets for twenty years (with PEN and JAC) I didn’t expect to be amazed by anything produced at a prison. Yup, I was a bit jaded. Never by the writers, who always impress me with their knowledge and their commitment to their writing, but by prison administrators. I have too many stories of trying to get Warden Nancy Doom (I kid you not) to approve books or Deputy Tory Belt to allow mail containing poetry into the prison. But, when I received a large, heavy envelope from Gary Farlow at the Nash Correctional Institute (NCI), I assumed it contained his poems and drawings, and instead discovered my first copy of “The Nash News: Information And The Arts From The Prison Community, I was caught by surprise.” Gary had sent it with pride since he is the Editor of this quarterly magazine, which was launched in 2005 and has grown from an eight page newsletter to a full glossy quarterly that contains prison news and a great deal of fine writing and artwork. I was so impressed by the publication that I sent off a letter of admiration to the warden. I shared copies with colleagues who were also stunned and one friend called it “bittersweet” because she could see just how much talent, ability and professionalism is being kept behind bars.
NCI is the home of a print plant that employs the men there to print government documents. They make pennies to work on printing contracts from state and municipal governments as well as private businesses.
The Nash News is created by a team of incarcerated writers, artists, and editors. Collaboration is always difficult and probably more so with writers and artists, but I can’t begin to imagine the difficulty of sharing and editing work behind bars and between units.
I was impressed with the statement on the back cover, which appears on many issues:
“Perhaps you have just recently transferred to the Nash Correctional Institution from another prison camp. If so, while obviously we do not wish for anyone to be in prison, we welcome you to your new community.”
After that inclusive statement comes information on how to stay in the know about what is happening at the facility. “The Nash News” convinced me that there is a a great deal of talent at NCI. I appreciate that the publication merges and mixes news stories with work by these gifted visual artists and writers. Life and art are not separate at NCI and that is illustrated in every issue of “The Nash News”.
I asked Gary Farlow about his role as editor of “The Nash News” and why it matters to him. He responded as follows:
“Traditionally, prison inmates have no voice in society. We are without a vote, with limited rights and dwell on the margin of the community. Seldom is a prison inmate asked for a viewpoint or opinion. The Hollywood stereotype of tattooed bodybuilders lifting weights, playing basketball or cards is a disservice to the many who endeavor to learn from a mistake and embrace positive change. This is what being editor of ‘The Nash News’ has meant to me. ‘TNN’ carries our message out to the free world that we are here- we are human beings and that there is an untapped resource of creativity, talent, compassion and ability “behind the wire”. Four times a year, ‘TNN’ sends this message. As editor, I take great pride in every member of the publication’s staff and am always impressed, awed, and even humbled by the drive, energy and dedication. If Harry Truman was right and ‘the buck stops here’ with me being the head of ‘TNN’, then I am fortunate in being allowed to exercise the mind and attempt to dispel these stereotypes.”
Caddell wrote about what writing means to him: “Writing is an expression of who I am. This has only become apparent to me since I’ve been incarcerated. Before, I only wrote in short form: Facebook posts, notes to friends, a paragraph or two on a birthday card. The most extensive writing I had done before incarceration was an occasional paper for school. I never had to use the written word to express my full sentiments. Since my incarceration, writing has become essential. I’ve always been good at verbal communication, but when you’re locked up, you can no longer see face to face those people whose decisions will affect your life. I learned early in my incarceration the importance of clear expression on paper. Often, how you write something is the difference between being heard and not being heard. What I learned about writing in my first years of prison is to be direct, clear and succinct. I now combine that with what I’ve learned about journalistic writing: to be informative and interesting. Sometimes, I can envision a piece from beginning to end, with a good lead, the essential supporting paragraphs and a good ending and I just know it’s a good story. Those are the pieces that I love to write. Of course, that’s rare and usually it’s all hard work and full wastepaper baskets.”
That certainly applies to all the writers I have ever known and, as with all my JAC partners, I realized how much we have in common. I then asked Caddell about editing and he responded:
“With TNN I’m moving away from writing and into greater editorial roles. How I feel about each issue is determined by what comes off the press. Before I became assistant editor, I only had to focus on my writing. Now I am responsible for something at every level of our process. We are working hard to instill quality control measures that will improve the publication and to help each of our writers improve their skill, regardless of their current ability. Each issue is a burden and a pleasure. Each issue is hard work from beginning to end, then we start all over again. Each issue is our voice. Each issue is another opportunity to change someone’s mind about incarcerated people.”
Before Covid, the “TNN” staff met every week to decide what would be included in the next issue. Now, of course, communication is far more difficult but it would take more than Covid to stop the intrepid editors of “TNN”. Their letterhead includes a logo with the words “BEYOND EXPECTATIONS.”
The connection between the JAC mission and “TNN” is obvious. JAC also works to give people in prison a greater voice in the world and to foster their creativity. Gary wrote about this connection with these words: “Much like a tailor who mends the frayed ends of cloth, JAC acts to re-interweave our tattered scraps back into the very fiber of the American tapestry.” JAC has inspired quite a few writers and artists who have worked producing “TNN” but I doubt that inmates are aware of how much their quarterly inspires those of us at JAC.
If you want a copy of “TNN”, write to one of the editors. You can help spread the word by sharing this amazing publication. If you know someone in prison who would like a copy, you will need to send it to him or her.
Request a copy from
Gary Farlow (125977) or Caddell Kivett (0228381)
Nashville Correctional Institute
Nashville, NC 27856