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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Carleton Professors Pen with Prisoners

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Once a week, Carleton French Professor Scott Carpenter takes leave of the venerable halls of Laird for a different building – a Minnesota state penitentiary.

Along with educational studies chair Deborah Appleman, Carpenter participates in the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop, or MPWW. It was founded in 2011 by Jennifer Bowen Hicks, with one small class in one facility, but has since expanded to offer courses at seven different state prisons. It was founded as an attempt to bring arts programming into the state prison system, as a supplement to a typical offering of GED courses, which, though necessary, were missing creativity and artistic expression.

Scott Carpenter, a French professor at Carleton and a creative writer, got involved with the program a year ago, and recently taught a course on flash fiction.

When asked what differences he notices between his MPWW students and Carleton students, he said.

While Carpenter notes that the mechanics of the writing is not perfect, the narrative was much stronger than he had imagined. Ultimately, what benefits the inmates the most is the workshop-style, peer review process.

“I think it’s one of those situations where the process is ultimately more important than the product. The process of reflection and working together and developing that sense that they did have valuable things to share,” Carpenter reflected.

Deborah Appleman, a professor in the Educational Studies department at Carleton, got involved with the program after independently teaching classes at one of the prisons since 2008. She was so interested in working in the prison that she took a sabbatical to work there full-time. Since joining the MPWW, she’s taught a creative writing class and plans to teach an essay class this spring.

Appleman said of the program’s impact on students, “I think that it gives them self-confidence, that the more classes they take, the more aware they are of their own talents and intelligence and their own abilities. I think it also changes their self-narrative, so that they’re not just people who are incarcerated, but they are readers and writers and thinkers, and so it changes the story that they tell themselves about themselves.”

Appleman is captivated by the work that the program does and hopes to see the students she’s worked with continue to grow through subsequent classes. Both Carpenter and Appleman believe that through the MPWW, these people are able to express themselves in ways that they often haven’t encountered before and encounter new opportunities that they might not otherwise have seen.

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