Three Cs of Stateville: A Writing Center in Prison.

Citation metadata

Author: Melissa Pavlik
Date: Sept-Oct 2020
Publisher: Twenty Six LLC
Document Type: Article
Length: 3,012 words
Lexile Measure: 1480L

Document controls

Main content

Article Preview :

When I accepted the position of writing center director at North Park University in 2017, a rush of joy hit me for two reasons: (1) after twelve years of adjuncting around Chicago, I would work full-time at one school with benefits, and (2) my workspace came well-stocked with what Peter Carino calls "the 3 Cs of writing centers: coffee, cookies, and couches" (102). In January 2018, my second semester at this liberal arts school that enrolls about 3,000 students, undergraduate Writing Advisor (WA) Emily Smith started a letter partners project that would eventually lead to a dual-campus writing center between university tutors in Chicago and students at our seminary's extension campus, Stateville Correctional Center, a nearly-century old maximum security facility that houses 1,137 adult males (Stateville Correctional Center). At a training session to prepare WAs and myself to participate in this write-to-learn experience, Emily cited the Sentencing Project to inform us of the 2.2 million people incarcerated in the United States with a "500% increase over the last 40 years" ("Criminal Justice Facts"). She also noted how a 2013 RAND study linked participation in correctional education programs to a reduced recidivism rate of 43 percent (Davis et al. 57) and closed by reading from a handout that outlined the project's rationale:

to humanize victims of mass incarceration, improve writing skills of both parties, further incorporate North Park Theological Seminary students incarcerated at Stateville into the North Park Chicago campus, and encourage all involved to rethink the prescribed image of a good writer by breaking stereotypes of race, ethnicity, and levels of education organically. (Smith)

Logistics-wise, writing partners would complete a series of four exchanges throughout the semester, commenting on one another's writing assignments in a manner that mirrored our center's conferencing practices. A Theology professor who had worked in Stateville since 2015 and currently taught the students we were paired with would facilitate letter exchanges. The first essay from my partner--39 pages handwritten, single-spaced, with 113 footnotes properly documented in Chicago style--initiated a written conversation between us that remains unfinished to this day.

Because of my first letter partner's prowess with his pen, I was surprised when asked, the following fall, to provide a basic diagnostic for students enrolled in the seminary's newly-launched MA in Christian Ministry program at Stateville. Students accepted into the program came from a variety of non-traditional educational backgrounds; some had earned bachelor's degrees through correspondence courses, for example, while others possessed only a GED. The accredited program emphasizes rehabilitative aspects of education in the form of restorative arts training for those working in ministerial contexts susceptible to violence. While applicants need not be Christian, they must enroll ready to write (by hand) 3000-word research papers. I was surprised again when 28 of 36 students who had already been accepted to this graduate-degree seeking cohort failed the diagnostic I provided, based on Andrea Lunsford's "top 20" errors in The Everyday Writer, the same diagnostic I use in undergraduate developmental writing courses. The writing partners program continued...

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|A636080878