"Poems From Inside" is a unique collection of poems written by inmates in Hennepin County.
Some write about their addictions: "If I happen to cross your path one day I'll look at you and say 'Goodbye Crack.' ''
Others write about hope, despite their frustration: "Here I sit locked down and jailed for weeks, told when to eat and when to sleep. Yet I'm Free."
Parents write about missing their children: "I'm going to fight, Lucy, I'm going to fight so hard. One day we'll be united, and never again apart."
The excerpts are from a unique volume of poetry called "Poems From Inside," a collection of poems created from writing workshops at the Hennepin County Adult Corrections Facility (ACF). The book is made up entirely of the writings of its residents.
Dan Marcou, corrections librarian at the Hennepin County Library Outreach Department, coordinated the "Poems From Inside" programs and helped edit the book.
"This was a more extensive program than what we've done in the past related to writing," he said. "It started in January and went through February and March. The outcome, then, was this book."
Marcou's primary duty as the corrections librarian is to provide library service to adults incarcerated in the corrections facility in Plymouth.
After he found funding opportunities in the fall -- from Minnesota's Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund, Coffee House Press, and the Friends of the Ridgedale Library -- he decided to introduce more in-depth programs to the mix.
With the extra funding, he brought in instructor Steve Healey from the Minneapolis Community and Technical College to teach a series of writing workshops within the men's facility. A volunteer teaches at the women's facility.
Healey -- who in addition to teaching creative writing at the collegiate level has taught for a number of Minnesota correctional facilities, including Plymouth and Shakopee -- said the biggest difference between incarcerated students and college students is shyness -- or, rather, lack of.
"Ironically, one of the things that I've noticed about students in jail is that they tend to be more willing to share their writing and talk about their personal lives than many other students," Healey said. "In some cases, they've done things they're not particularly proud of. They have this remarkable honesty and willingness to just share what's happened in their lives."
Healey has taught a total of three hourlong workshops since January, which produced the poetry in the book. They're not mandatory classes, he said, but 95 residents signed up for the three.
Healey said he's interested in teaching more in the future. Right now, though, it's a matter of funding.
His teaching style at ACF, where the maximum sentence is one year, differs from that of traditional creative writing workshops.
"If you walked into a normal creative writing workshop, that term has come to mean people sitting around in a circle, evaluating each other's writing," he said. "I don't do any of that."
What he prefers to do, he said, is to introduce a theme, or technique, of the day, and then give examples from published writers -- or, in some cases, former students of his. Then, of course, he allows time to write.
"I always, always give them time to write in class. This is really important for me as a teacher."
"What's amazing is that 90 percent of the room usually volunteers to read their work aloud," he said. "And there's always this big round of applause and support from everyone else. It's really a powerful, energetic experience in these rooms."
The current book, along with other books of work created through all of Marcou's outreach programs, are available for checkout at all Hennepin County Library locations.
Eric Larson is a Twin Cities freelance writer.