Sarah Lawrence students, faculty and a corrections officer participating in the "Right-to-Write" creative writing project at the Westchester County Correctional Facility will present a special reading of fiction, poetry, and memoir written by incarcerated women. The reading will be held on Thursday, March 4, 1999, at 8 p.m., at the Herbert Mark Newman Theatre, in Pleasantville, NY. Tickets are $18; $15 for senior citizens and members of the theatre; $7 for students with I.D. To reserve tickets, please call (914) 741-0333, Ext. 688.
Now in its fourth year, the "Right-to-Write" Project offers a supportive teaching environment through which participating inmates in the Women's Unit of the Westchester County Correctional Facility in Valhalla, NY, develop their writing and communication skills, build self-esteem and discover new visions for personal growth.
Throughout the year, Sarah Lawrence students and alumnae/i conduct creative writing workshops for nearly 40 incarcerated women. Participants are encouraged to discuss such themes as parenting, family issues, substance abuse, domestic violence and women's empowerment, and respond personally to these group explorations through poetry, short stories, and memoir. "The program reaches deep in all directions," said Jennifer Wallace, coordinator of the project, which runs under the aegis of the Community Partnerships Program at Sarah Lawrence. "It offers the women inmates a way to be valued for being themselves. These workshops may be the first opportunity many of these women have had to feel that affirmation. For the Sarah Lawrence students it breaks open assumptions we have about ourselves."
To celebrate the unique contributions of each writer, printed anthologies of the completed work are compiled and distributed to inmates, corrections officers and administrators. To date, some 750 poems and stories have been collected in 60 anthologies. The testimony of current participants attests to the ongoing success of the project. "I write because it keeps the positive side of me alive," one woman writes, while another reflects that "I write to relieve my anger, I write so the ink can wipe away my tears. The class gave me a chance to reflect and write down these bad feelings I had hidden for a long time."
The Community Partnerships Program at Sarah Lawrence College works with faculty to create courses combining classroom instruction with community work. Currently Sarah Lawrence College has nine "service learning" courses engaging more than 150 students in work committed to social service or social change.
Now in its eighth season, The Herbert Mark Newman Theatre in Pleasantville, New York is one of the most respected and innovative performing arts theatres in Westchester County, earning a 1998 Westchester Arts Council Award for excellence. Known for the quality of its main stage productions and commitment to developing original plays and choreography, the Newman is also highly regarded for its community outreach programs. Mara Mills, artistic director of the theatre commented: "I truly believe that theatre and social action go hand-in-hand. We are always trying to look at our work with a social conscience."