Right to Write

Several of the students who have participated in Right to Write during the 2019-20 academic year are surrounded (above) by anthologies representing the incarcerated writers whose work has been read at the College’s annual poetry festival over the past 25 years. Clockwise from upper left are Micaela Eckett ’21, Keya Acharya ’20, Aubrey Baker ’23, Genevieve Mills MFA ’21, Cat Adler-Josem MFA ’21, Bella Phelan ’22, Lucia Lansing ’20, KT Herr MFA ’20, Sidney Wegener MA ’21, and Emma Hochfelder ’20.

In 1995, Sarah Lawrence faculty Regina Arnold (sociology) and Myra Goldberg (writing) initiated weekly writing workshops at the Westchester County Department of Corrections to provide incarcerated women an outlet for self-expression. The six-week class enrolled 10 SLC students working with 25 incarcerated writers.

A quarter century later, Right to Write has evolved into a student-led program with a legion of alumni. Many have gone into criminal justice and prison reform fields, including forensic psychiatry, advocacy, law, policy research, social work, and alternative-to-incarceration programs.

“Right to Write occupies a space that is both of, and outside of, the political conversation about prison,” says KT Herr MFA ’20, who is interested in working with incarcerated populations after completing her master’s degree in writing.

Guided by a graduate coordinator and supported by the Office of Community Partnerships, Right to Write now facilitates workshops year-round. Over the years, programs with incarcerated women, mothers, and young men have resulted in 25 anthologies of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and songs.

“It’s a privilege to collaborate with these men and women who allow us to sit at that table with them, share that space, and share their work,” says Remy Gerard ’22, who is studying trauma psychology.

Facilitator Emma Hochfelder ’20, who plans to pursue prison reform and abolition work, has found the program transformative. “For many of us,” she explains, “forming relationships and fostering community with the individuals we work with has altered our trajectories.”