Inmates’ Passion for Literacy Revealed Through Tutoring Program

“Even though their bodies can be incarcerated, their minds can’t,” says author and educator Deborah Appleman, who joined Detroit Today with Stephen Henderson.

white barred prison cells

Words No Bars Can Hold
Words No Bars Can Hold

Do you remember learning to read? It’s as if a whole world opens up and suddenly you are granted access to new ideas, far-off places, historical figures and so much more. As you get further along, there’s room for analysis, critique and then creative writing of your own.

Now, imagine you are in prison — not exactly the most conducive environment for literacy learning. Author and educator Deborah Appleman has been bringing language, literature and creative writing to a high-security men’s prison since 2007.

“They come to classroom hungry to reclaim their humanity,” Appleman tells Stephen Henderson on Detroit Today. “Even in that carceral state they are able to be transported.’

Appleman tells Henderson that she became a teacher because she believes in the power of words.

“Seeing that it works even in the dark of the prison context is really gratifying to me,” she says.

It’s important for Appleman to put her students’ stories first, she says, as opposed to focusing on her own role in them. She says she does not want to play into a “white savior narrative.”

“I don’t want my interaction with them and our experience to be framed by their crime, because every other aspect of their life is,” says Appleman. “I focus on the importance of redemption and forgiveness, and the human capacity for change.”

Click on the audio player above to hear Deborah Appleman, author of “Words No Bars Can Hold,” speaking with Stephen Henderson on Detroit Today.


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