Writers Guild: “Giant Steps”

In 2017, Michele Eodice, Catherine Mintler, and Nick LoLordo began monthly in-person workshops with an established group of eleven writers, the “Writers Guild,” incarcerated at Joseph Harp Correctional Center in Lexington, Oklahoma. These men had been regularly meeting weekly, had produced a wide range of poems, essays, fiction, and non-fiction, and sought mentors to connect their writing to public audiences and to help publish their work. Eodice, Mintler, LoLordo, and Timothy Bradford, who joined in 2019, provided weekly feedback and writing exercises, a process leading to Mongrel Empire Press publishing Emergence: Writings by the JHCC Writers Guild. This anthology was followed by two release readings. The first, held at Harp, featured Guild members plus numerous guest writers from Oklahoma. The second, at the new Norman Public Library, featured volunteers and guest writers reading from the anthology to an audience from the greater Norman/Oklahoma City community. A recently released Writers Guild member read his work and delightedly autographed copies of Emergence. Everyone was pleased and hopeful … and then the pandemic struck. 

Since spring 2019 volunteer visits and internal Guild meetings alike have been prohibited. Our sole means of communication involves snail mail between individual volunteers and incarcerated writers. Some of the writers continue to work on their own; others have stopped due to the current difficulties and inaccessibility of materials. Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, vital relationships with writers and writing projects had to be put on hold. 

As of July 2021, monthly in-person writing workshops at JHCC have recommenced and more in-person readings to celebrate the anthology Emergence: Writings by the JHCC Writers Guild are being planned. While several founding Writers Guild members have been transferred and others are nearing the ends of their sentences and preparing for release, two new members have joined, and as a recent February 2022 workshop introducing erasure poetry showed, this group remains committed, enthusiastic, and creative. In this workshop, LoLordo helped members discover their own poems inside those of John Milton, William Shakespeare, and M. NourbSe Philip, once again demonstrating that the need to work with language to recreate and reimage one’s world behind bars, to find freedom and agency in the moment, remains vital and unchanging.