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Former Students


Hey, I'm on my way to making a better life for myself. I want to say thank you for everything you showed me and did for me. You taught me to believe in myself and showed me I am somebody and not a nobody. This is coming from my heart.

Clarence Cooper


I saw my brother die right in front of me. At that time I was mad and sad, but most of all I was ready for revenge for my brother's death. I did something stupid to come to jail, and that's when I thought it was over. Then I went to The Jimmy Santiago Baca Library, Writing, and Publishing Center and started to write. I wrote about the streets and my brother's death and my time in jail, trying to make it day by day. I have been locked up for one year now, and now I know when I die I don't want people crying. I want people to smile and say he was a good writer. His words stopped me from hurting someone else. Can you believe it! Me, I am writing, trying to help people, and I know my brother is in heaven smiling down on me.

Khyri Caldwell


May 2010

Coming from a home where there was hardly any love shown, I sheltered myself from growing. So much was going on in my life and through the experiences, it only got worse. Finally when I was sixteen yrs old, I was sent to St. Joseph's Villa. No one ever wants to admit that being in lock up changes your life from a whole different perspective, but I can admit that I would probably be dead or in jail if I didn't go. But even though I was in a whole new world, I still wasn't able to express myself the way that I really wanted to.

I remember when we were being told by our staff that someone from NYSLC was coming to work with some of the teens for a project. At first I didn't want to participate because I thought that it was just another excuse for us to be away from the cottage. We later learned that NYSLC was an organization that gave youth the chance to be heard and to express themselves. I decided to participate and I'm so glad I did. For those few weeks that Dale Davis was there with us, I felt like I could express myself no matter what anyone said or thought. I've always written poems but I never shared any of them with anyone and they were usually short and dinky lol but they meant a whole great deal to me. Dale taught us how to express ourselves in a way that I wasn't used to. We would write our poems about how we felt, the experiences we've been through, and so much more and actually share them with the other kids in the program. It was different for me, but I appreciated it so much. The program sort of put me in the mindset of Def Poetry Jam. It was so much fun. In The Villa, they were very strict on things we could and could not do or say and while Dale was there I felt so comfortable because I was able to express myself without worrying about getting in trouble. It helped me a lot to come to terms with my past and to realize that things could've been a lot worse. I wasn't scared to say what I felt anymore. I was actually able to communicate better with others after the program. I wanted to be heard and I finally was. It was an amazing moment for me.

That was almost six years ago. I am now almost twenty-two years old, and I still have the Roc City Anthem CD. I listen to it when I'm reminiscing about old times, and it always reminds me of how I can always relate to others in more ways then I can even imagine. All of the experiences the kids and I in the project had been through, from poverty, to sex, to drugs, violence, neglect, every negative thing you can possibly think of, came together in one movement. It was like we knew where each one of us was coming from and understood what we were going through. We were able to help each other cope with the anger and pain we were enduring deep down inside. It was a wonderful experience for me and I carry that with me till this day. I changed a lot of my ways and became so much more mature, less angry, and more uplifting. I am so thankful for Dale and NYSLC for helping me cope with my troubles and helping me make it through with no worries. Love you guys to death. Keep up the good work and continue to reach out to the youth. You guys are a blessing! 

Ashley Debardlabon


When I was recently incarcerated at Monroe Correctional Facility I was introduced to the New York State Literary Center. I think this is an awesome organization. This is a wonderful way for us as young adults to express our feelings and beliefs on our everyday life. The incarcerated staff and so many people look at us as criminals. With the New York State Literary Center, we have a chance to show and express ourselves positively as humans and not just as an ID number. After my first time meeting with me Ms. Dale Davis I was very interested in the program. She's a wonderful person. The next day I was introduced to another wonderful artist who explained to us how the program worked and the kind of art we will be doing. The more I learned about NYSLC the more I was ready to get involved in the class. The problem is I'm being released from custody and won't be able to participate in the program, which isn't fair! I asked Ms. Dale Davis was there any organization like this put together that is not inside of a correctional facility. It surprised me that a wonderful program like this should just be in jails. I believe if there was a program like this created in the community it really would make a change. There are plenty of young adults who have been in jail and plenty of children who would love to join a community classroom like the NYSLC. It gives us an opportunity to learn, to have fun and express our feelings all at the same time. For instance, I'm not good at drawing and I hate expressing my feelings to others. With the self-portraits and the art of collage, it really gave me a chance to express myself in several different ways.

I really think there should be a discussion about opening a "community" classroom in the "community". I would even help run a fundraiser for funds if needed to get the program up and running. Thanks for your time and appreciation. Hope to hear something soon!

Deshunte Scott


After being incarcerated in 2015, I felt embarrassed for leaving my family to fend for themselves. Not only did I let myself down, I forced my family to suffer the consequences of my choices and not their own. After it was all over I was grateful they choose to stick by my side the whole six months I spent in jail. Shortly into my time, I met Dale Davis, who taught a New York State Literary Center writing program in the jail. I was happy for this opportunity, little did I understand at the time the impact the program would have on my life."

From the beginning we were given assignments and the materials to complete them. Along with books and articles to read and research, we were given writing by famous authors and historical literature to read. The New York State Literary Center program came through. It created an environment where we could feel proud despite our temporary circumstances by laying the foundation and building the tools necessary to create better opportunities for ourselves that would serve as a positive in our communities and not a negative.

Nathaniel Waggoner


I thought it would be nice and awarding for you to hear a true success story from a extremely "messed-up child" that beat all the odds, stereotypes, and statistics to became what he (I) wanted to become and so much more. There's too many circumstances and situations to type in a letter or an email that will capture just a fraction of all of the hard work, sweat, humidity, respect, fear, dealing with myself, and all the struggling I endured to achieve my goals. You significantly contributed to me turning my life around I cannot express enough the gratitude and respect I have for you for helping me.

Jimmy Cira


I just wanted to drop you a note to thank you for the work that you do with children! I had the pleasure of taking a creative writing class with you years ago (mid/late 90s) at Alternative High School in Fairport. I was in a district based classroom across the parking lot at the Foreman Center, and a few of us were given the opportunity to join your class - I had always loved writing poetry, but never felt that I had an unbiased open environment in which to express my feelings. The way you connected with the kids really has stood out to me after all these years. At the time I was really into Nirvana, the Grateful Dead, and Marilyn Manson - quite the combination! You allowed me and a classmate to dissect our favorite songs by Marilyn Manson and write about them from our perspective in an effort to educate parents about why they shouldn't just blame the music for all their child's problems. You also recommended that I read Polaroids from the Dead by Douglas Coupland, which is still a favorite of mine today! As an adult with my own child now, I have come to realize the mostly thankless work that so many educators dedicate themselves to. As I pulled out Douglas Coupland again this week for another read, I thought of you (and searched for you!) and am so glad to see you are still churning away and making a difference in people's lives!

Thank you for all that you do!!

Erin McCoy

I want to start by saying thank you. My family wants to thank Dale Davis, the New York State Literary Center, and all the people at the Strong National Museum of Play for donating the tickets to us. In my time of incarceration we are grateful for this blessing to give my family a chance to go to such an awesome place. My kids totally enjoyed the Butterfly Garden and all of the cool attractions in the museum. They told me they had a great time. They were amazed at how I got tickets for such a cool place. When I told them they could not believe that something so good could come from a place like jail. My kids are older so they kind of understand my situation and the kind of place I am in. They worry, but seeing something so nice can come from a place like this gave them an ease of mind.

I hope this continues. It makes a big difference in the lives of families where a family member is in jail from my perspective. It brought a big smile to my girls. My girls can’t thank you enough for this awesome chance you gave us. We all hope this gift keeps on being given. Thank you for such a rare opportunity and experience.

Thank you from me and my family.

Jose Sued

I ask myself everyday why did I choose the life I chose. I have two felonies. What jobs will there be for me, a two-time felon? Some days I just sit on my bunk and think of ways to try to correct my life because I know if I give up I will either be dead or in prison. I can’t give up. I have a lot of people who love me. I can’t live the way I was because I always get the same results, and I am so tired of coming in this revolving door. From here on out I made a vow to myself to never come back to this place again. I know it will take a lot of hard work. I am determined to change for me and my two little girls. Honestly Ms. Dale is the person who I sit back and listen to. She is such a positive person, and she sees good in everyone. She honestly made me want to do better and become a better person. I want to say thank you to her.

Jose Jimenez