Indiana Prison Writers Workshop set to expand

PLAINFIELD, Ind. -- Inside the Plainfield Correctional Facility, inmates like Chris Lewis can take their imagination beyond the prison walls -- with a pen and paper -- through the Indiana Prison Writers Workshop.

“Being able to sit in class, [and in] 15 minutes, write about something from your childhood -- it could be something that’s painful, it could be something that’s joyful, but either way you grow from it,” Lewis said.

The program aims to help inmates change their behavior through therapeutic writing. The 12-week curriculum focuses on creative writing and poetry, while incorporating lessons about vocabulary and grammar.

As for Lewis, he's spent 16 years in prison.

“A best friend of mine, we used to rob drug dealers. We robbed the wrong drug dealer one day and he ended up getting killed, and I ended up doing the time for his murder. This person was dead because of me and my choices,” Lewis said.

Today, he credits the writers workshop with helping him complete a novel.

“I had never written a short story, let alone a chapter that turned into a novel. It’s about bigger purpose love; love your passion, love has a destiny for all of us,” Lewis said.

It’s a story he hopes to publish someday.

“The story is based on true events, real dreams and sincere sentiment.”

Lewis says the things he’s learned through the writing workshop have also translated to his music.

“There’s things I write about and share, that I would never share with you in a regular conversation. But here, I sit up on a stool and share my whole soul,” Lewis said.

The therapeutic benefits are all part of the workshop, a program Debra Des Vignes was compelled to create after spending time there as a volunteer.

“Our recidivism rate in Indiana and the country is very high, so programs like this, volunteer programs -- it’s making a difference. They’re people, just like us. We want them to improve and better their skills for when they’re ready to re-enter the community,” Des Vignes said.

Des Vignes says there’s only a handful of programs like Indiana Prison Writers Workshop in the country. After seeing the success it’s had in the Plainfield Correctional Facility, the curriculum will soon be offered inside the Indiana Women’s Prison and the Pendleton Correctional Facility. Des Vignes says she hopes to eventually bring the program to all 21 facilities across the state.

As the program expands, more volunteers are needed. For more information on ways to get involved, click here.

There’s also an event planned in September that will showcase work from the program. For more information, click here.