Prison Writing Mentorship and a Reciprocal Model for Critical Pedagogy

By: Matthew Houdek  

Essays by incarcerated individuals in the US are crucial resources for documenting the realities of life behind bars in the age of mass incarceration (Alexander, 2012), and how those realities reflect life outside prison. The PEN Prison Writing Program, the largest mentorship program of its kind, puts professional writers in conversation with aspiring prisoner-writers in order to further contribute to these (counter)narratives. This presentation draws on my experience as a PEN mentor, critical race scholar, and professor of Writing Studies to forward a model of Reciprocal Anti-Racist Critical Pedagogy (RARCA). To a degree, all critical pedagogy is reciprocal since professors and students are engaged in practices of co-learning and mutual exchange (Friere, 2000; hooks, 1998). This presentation advocates for going one step further by including the voices of prisoners into the fold. In the RARCA model, the professor serves as the central point of exchange and facilitation between writers, readers, and thinkers in both the classroom and the prison. Classroom discussions on significant prison texts authored by Angela Davis (1971), Leonard Peltier (2000), Mumia Abu-Jamal (1996) and Assata Shakur (2001), among others, inform my approach as a PEN mentor and thus influences the prisoners’ writings through feedback and exchange. These prisoners’ essays (with permission) are then introduced back into the classroom to highlight this exchange process, the power of writing, and the relations between prison and everyday life in the carceral state. In the RARCA model, professors, students, and prisoners all benefit from this process as both learners and educators.

Critical Pedagogy, Anti-Racism, Mass Incarceration, Prison Writing, Reciprocal Learning
Education and Learning in a World of Difference
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Matthew Houdek

Lecturer, University Writing Program, Rochester Institute of Technology, United States
United States

I completed my PhD in Communication Studies at the University of Iowa (USA) in spring 2018 and I currently teach in the University Writing Program at the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York. My research interrogates the rhetorics of race/ism/ialization in the United States with a particular focus on the rhetorics, memories, and affects that circulate public culture and which normalize racialized state violence as a form of common sense, and the radical meaning-making practices that aim to disrupt these long developed logics that underwrite such erasures, elisions, and obfuscations in civil society. My research informs and is informed by my classroom and institutional practices and commitments, and centers an anti-racist critical pedagogy that centers the works of scholars of color and theorists within the black radical tradition (both academic and activist).