Prison Education Project

The Prison Education Project

The Prison Education Project is an initiative of the Department of English to teach in the local state prison system.   The project began in spring 2017 when a team of faculty and graduate students team-taught a non-credit reading course at the Whetstone Unit in the Arizona State Prison Complex--Tucson.  Several of the student participants were veterans in the Whetstone Prison's Regaining Honor unit, so the theme of honor was central to that first course.  The team currently includes Professors Marcia Klotz and Colleen Lucey (Russian and Slavic) and graduate students Maria Conti, Amy Takabori, Sally Benson, Christine Walsh and Rachel Sims.  The instructors teach the close reading of essays, short stories and poems in order help to ready incarcerated students for college-level work. Students improve their critical reading and comprehension skills, gain rhetorical awareness, and engage the readings in order to reflect on their lives and hopes for the future. 

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 now expanding this ambitious outreach project in the Arizona State Prison Complex.  If you would like to support our work, please consider contributing to the Prison Education Project fund at the UA Foundation.

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.  With support from a Lannon Foundation grant to the UA Poetry Center, Professor Shelton founded Rain Shadow Review, a journal that collects literary work by inmates.  For the last ten years, Shelton’s labors have been continued by Professor Erec Toso, who continues to conduct creative writing workshops for inmates.

In conjunction with these outreach programs in the Tucson Prison Complex, Professor Erec Toso is teaching an 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, students have the opportunity to read and edit the work to be published in Rain Shadow Review.

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