Prison Education Project

The Prison Education Project

The Prison Education Project is an initiatve of the Department English that began this year.  A team of faculty and graduate students are co-teaching a non-credit reading course on Thursday mornings this Spring semester at the Whetstone Unit in the Arizona State Prison Complex--Tucson.  Several of the student participants in the course are veterans in the Whetstone Prison's Regaining Honor unit.  The team includes Professors Marcia Klotz and Colleen Lucey (Russian and Slavics) and graduate students Maria Conti, Amy Takabori, Sally Benson, Christine Walsh and Rachel Sims.  This group's reading course includes the teaching of essays, short stories and poems that help to prepare the readiness of incarcerated students for college-level work. Students learn critical reading and comprehension skills, rhetorical awareness, and they apply these course readings to a better understanding of self, others, and the world. This project was made possible with the support of Barbara Martinson, a friend of our department with a passion for advancing educational work in the prison system.  With her help, the department is seeking to build an ambitious outreach project in the Arizona State Prison Complex.

English has a long history of conducting this kind of work.  Emeritus Regents Professor Richard Shelton began teaching creative writing workshops in Arizona prisons some forty-six years ago. He eventually wrote about those experiences in his famous memoir,  Crossing the Yard: Thirty Years as a Prison Volunteer.  For the last ten years, Shelton’s labors have been continued by Professor Erec Toso, who continues to conduct workshops for inmates.  The best of their work is collected for publication in Rain Shadow Review, a journal sponsored by the UA Poetry Center and still supported by Shelton with fundingfrom the Lannan Foundation.  With Barbara Martinson’s support, The Prison Education Project has also been able to expand Professor Toso’s work with inmates and Rain Shadow Review by adding the help of graduate student and faculty volunteers.

Finally, in conjunction with these outreach programs in the Tucson Prison Complex, Professor John Warnock is teaching a new undergraduate course on prison writing for UA students.  In addition to encountering the history of American prison writing, and meeting with well known prison writers,these students have the opportunity to read and edit the work to be published by prisoners from the Creative Writing workshop managed by Professor Toso.

Our faculty and students are excited at this opportunity to expand educational opportunities for inmates while also raising awareness among University of Arizona students about the history as well as the present-day conditions of the American prison system.


Sally Benson-- RCTE PhD Student
Maria Conti-- RCTE PhD Student
Marcia Klotz- Literature Faculty
Colleen Lucey-- Dept. of Russian and Slavic Studies Faculty
Lisa O'Neill-- Creative writer and former UA WP Lecturer
Scott Selisker- Literature Faculty 
Rachel Sims-- Literature PhD Student
Amy Takabori-- RCTE PhD Student
Christine Walsh-- Literature PhD Student


Editorial Review Board

Dev Bose                                    Jeremy Godfrey                             Emily Louise Thomas


College of Social and Behavioral Sciences