Providing space to Create

Prison Library Committee releases first chapbook by incarcerated writers and artists

With the launching of the Create chapbook, incarcerated women in the Women’s Correctional Centre (WCC) are being given a voice and the ability to add “published poet/writer/artist” to their lists of accomplishments.

Kirsten Wurmann, chair of the Prison Library Committee (PLC), says the project was an extension of the interests of the incarcerated women with whom the program works.

Kirsten Wurmann, chair of the Prison Library Committee. // Supplied

“We’ve been going into the WCC since 2014. We do book exchanges there, but we also do writing circles, we do author talks, and we have book clubs as well,” Wurmann says.

She says the program has involved building a lot of relationships between PLC volunteers and the inmates, guards, prison bureaucracy and prison program co-ordinators, but that the programs are in high demand and are very rewarding for both inmates and PLC volunteers.

She says that when facilitating book exchanges, many incarcerated women requested books on how to write well, so that they could tell their own stories. The PLC realized there could be an opportunity for these women’s works to be published.

“Libraries have an important role in social justice in our communities and breaking down barriers, and part of that role is making sure that incarcerated people have access to information and books,” Wurmann says.

“I think it’s really important to remember that (an) incarcerated person has not given up the right to learn and access information. They’ve not given up and forfeited their humanity, and I think this chapbook really allows the public to see these writers, these artists who are in the Women’s Correctional Centre.

“I hope that the writing circles and this chapbook are a way for their voices to be heard and to connect them to the outside world. It offers some room for hope.”

Wurmann says that this edition of Create is labeled as “Volume 1” for a reason: the PLC hopes to release more chapbooks in the future.

The PLC began their prison library program at the Winnipeg Remand Centre, but they now work in the WCC, the Headingley Correctional Centre and The Pas Correctional Centre.

Kerry Macdonald, president of the Manitoba Library Association (MLA), says the MLA is “certainly proud of all the work the Prison Library Committee volunteers have done.”

She says libraries play an important role for many vulnerable communities, “including those who are incarcerated, but also homeless people, people with disabilities, even just people who have grown up in social services or need other assistance, (for whom) libraries provide resources, lifelong learning and all kinds of literacy support that we believe contributes to successful members of society and good communities.”

Wurmann says the Winnipeg Public Library will add copies of Create to their collections, and the Harvey Smith branch has some copies available for purchase. After selling many copies at their launch at The Good Will Social Club on Sept. 22, the PLC is still working out where people will be able to purchase more.

Published in Volume 74, Number 5 of The Uniter (October 3, 2019)

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