For years, Johnson County Library has had a positive partnership with the county’s Department of Corrections, providing Library services at the Adult Residential Center and to those receiving substance abuse treatment at the Therapeutic Community Center.
This spring, the partnership got another big boost.
Johnson County Library provided the funds to offer an eight-week Creative Writing class for Therapeutic Center clients. It was offered as part of NCircle’s College of Trades, which provides essential skills for post-incarceration.
The Creative Writing teacher, students and Library representatives agree it was a great program, setting the stage for more classes later this year.
“We saw this as a wonderful opportunity,” said Incarcerated Services Librarian Melody Kinnamon, who leads the Library’s efforts on behalf of incarcerated patrons.
Research shows creative writing can be enormously helpful to people in recovery. Kinnamon also saw the class as a logical outgrowth of the Library’s extensive local writers programming, led by Reference Librarian Helen Hokanson. Through Hokanson’s contacts, Kinnamon reached out to Lawrence-based author Ronda Miller (pictured), who is experienced in both poetry and prose, to teach the class.
“I knew the moment we met that it was going to be a great fit,” Kinnamon said of her interview with Miller. “I could just tell she had a heart for the justice-involved clients and that she would meet them wherever they were in their writing journey.”
Miller says teaching the class, for 90 minutes every Monday for eight weeks this spring, was a wonderful experience. She was awed by the students’ eloquence.
“It’s amazing what they shared,” Miller observed. “I knew going in that I would learn as much from them, if not more, than they would learn for me. That was the case.”
Several students said it was incredibly beneficial.
Student Anita Hoskins had never seen herself as a writer but discovered an ability to write poems about nature and happiness.
“Some really good things have happened,” Hoskins said. “I felt I really could find some creativity in me that I didn’t know I had before.”
Hoskins said Miller’s encouragement and support helped her “pull out all kinds of stuff in my soul, in my memory.”
After the Therapeutic Center graduation in May, Hoskins has aspirations to publish a book and perhaps become a counselor.
Josh Patterson, another student, already knew he loved to write poetry and letters but said Miller helped him hone his skills.
“After taking part in the class, I discovered I have a real passion for prose and it’s been hugely helpful for me and therapeutic in my treatment and my recovery,” he said. Miller made wise suggestions to help him polish his writing, and he took her advice to heart.
Miller, author of five books and past president of the Kansas Authors Club, encouraged the students to submit their work to Kansas writing competitions. Patterson was excited about that opportunity.
The class was inspiring for Miller, who experienced great trauma as a child and is a Life Coach to people who have lost someone to homicide.
“I talked to them about why we tell our stories, the importance of Voice,” said Miller. The class shared laughter, tears and descriptions of dreams. Miller watched as the students blossomed with newfound confidence, producing vivid, evocative writing.
Kinnamon said she heard great feedback and is pleased the Library will fund additional classes this summer and fall. She hopes the graduates will find ongoing connections to the local writers’ community though the Library.
“Ronda has made them feel comfortable as writers, and it’s our hope they will join in the Library’s writing community,” Kinnamon said. “That would help bring everything full circle.”