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Those Incarcerated On New York State Literary Center's Programs


Before this I thought I could write, but this project made me do some soul searching and pulled the best out of me. Now I know I am capable of more. I have learned to love myself more and to cherish things I always took for granted. Writing now is my way of making people know something about me and what I have to go through. It is a way to have people feel my pain. In this project we learned that we all have been through the same struggle. We have made it easier for each other. I respect everyone who took the time to share their stories. The best thing was having someone who cares about us open our minds and make us understand there is more to life than jail stuff.


I learned that I have it in me if I try hard enough. It was cool letting people know a little about myself. I learned I am pretty creative with thoughts, and I learned my peers are just as creative as I am. The best thing about this project was getting to say what was on my mind at any given time. My work got better as I went along. It was good to hear other people's work, too, as it made me want to do more.



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

This program is good because it helps people to get to know us better, not just look at us as just inmates or bad people. People are so quick to judge you by their first impression, but this program lets people in on things that people don't know about us and that most of us don't share. And it might change the way people look at us. People judge a book by the cover, but you don't know what that book is about until you read it.

I like to write now because it helps me to express my feelings. It is easier to write to get out stuff than to talk about it. Writing also takes my mind off the stressful things. It makes my time and days go by fast, and it stops me from thinking about what the judge is going to do or say when I get court again. I think about what's going on in the world on the outside. Sometimes I try to sleep all day, but I can't. I wish I could have a big plate of home cooked food, lie in a big bed, and chill with my friends again. Writing helps me to ask myself was it worth it.

Nowadays some people have problems at home, then they come to school with their problems, then they just don't care about school, then they just go to school to hustle and smoke weed. These things affect people and keep them from going to school. They give up on themselves. It's like this, when people have their houses shot at, when people's family members die, you just don't know what you want to do with your life.

Some people just need someone to take care of them and talk to them like they really care about them and what goes on in their lives. If we really had people like in the New York State Literary Center projects who don't give up on us and care about our lives, maybe we would go back to school. All we need is someone to believe in us, to help us, and to help us want to help ourselves. Thank you for this program.




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

Why did I never write?
I never wrote before.
I really can tell you that I was scared and, I didn't know what to write about.
I always thought if I wrote it was never going to sound right, so I never wrote.
But now I love writing.

After hearing what everyone wrote last week I went back to my cell and started to think. We are all the same in some way. We all are hurting, and we all hurt someone that we love. And that as long we write we all seem happier.


I learned that we need more positive programs in the community for us to participate in. This was wonderful. I learned how to think deeply. We need follow-up support for what we did in this project.



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

Some people just need someone to take care of them and talk to them like they really care about them and what goes on in their lives. If we really had people like in the New York State Literary Center projects who don't give up on us and care about our lives, maybe we would go back to school. All we need is someone to believe in us, to help us, and to help us want to help ourselves. Thank you for this program.

Writing to me is not just writing.
Writing is more than words on a paper. It's life.
Writing is the way I tell it in black and white.
It's from my mind above and beyond.
Writing is my faith in me.
People say are you feeling it,
but I say it's your mind
thinking from the back to the front and to the front to the back.
Now this is what writing and this project mean to me.

When we write we begin to know who we are.


I'm a young African American male from southwest Rochester, New York who has been through terrible things in my life. Lots of murders happened in my only eighteen years. My friend was killed in front of my face when I was fourteen, and I was shot in the leg and shocked by the scene. I never can stop thinking about that day, April 11, 2007. I hate the life I have lived after that day because my life was almost taken, and I think about that every day. My mother had to raise me all alone for all of my life. My father was shot and murdered when I was young, and that, plus what happened to me, scarred my mother forever. I made mistakes I know, and now I am trying to do something about it. I dropped out of school, and I am pushing to get a GED. I want to look forward to going to college. I want to believe I can go to college. I want an education. I want to work to help my mother with the bills.

Please give us more programs like this. Thank you Dale Davis for coming to Monroe County Jail to help us write our stories. Thank you for helping us to think about ourselves. We all want the chance to love our lives that you are teaching us.



poverty is hard.
is there.
It is everywhere,
I was,
we were
and didn't even know.

Living with poverty makes you do the unthinkable, anything to get out of poverty. This is how we get to jail. I was a different man. Poverty changes you like in the flash of an eye. Society throws you away.

Poverty makes people turn into animals. It changes us from good students to felons. We wake up to no breakfast and go to sleep with nothing to eat. This makes us hit the streets.

We become darkness at night
for a piece
of whatever we can get.

Poverty gets to you. Being broke every day. What will you do to survive? Will you steal, maybe, maybe not. There are so many kids like me. This is what we do. Poverty hits us hard. It goes for the kill, and it kills.

is the death
of it can happen.

I tried. I tried. I tried.
I failed.

Where do I go from here? I want to go everywhere. I don't want to go to jail or to prison. Where do I go from here? I want to go to college.

Why are the streets of Rochester a corridor to prison? They are dangerous, scary. We never know what will happen.


Where do I go from here?

I can't imagine life anymore.
I try to picture the outside
in my mind,
but I'm blind,
and I only hear the sounds of what other people say.
To me there is no outside,
only the inside
of Monroe County Jail.

Monroe County Jail is my life,
white walls like an ice sheet,

I hear there is not only this darkness.
There are whole worlds
with blue skies and you feel like you're free.
I want to be able to see.

Rochester is filled with violence, but there are kids here, kids, like me, who have dreams. We learn our dreams are just dreams.

Thank you New York State Literary Center for letting me think about and write about poverty in Rochester.



I want to think about my future.
I want to put my past behind me,
but my heart is in the streets.
I am away from my seeds,
praying to God on my knees.

I want to succeed.
I want to succeed.

I am tired of making mistakes.
My mind is in a place it cannot escape.

My son looks me in the face.
Is it a man he sees?

I tell him about the streets and the damage it brings.

Rochester, New York is where you find me.
filled with so much pain.
Rochester, the city inside me.



I am sitting here
taking in the all information that I receive.
I am very intrigued by Langston Hughes,
and the world
really reading his work.
It has been a long time coming,
and I am glad it has arrived.
I think about how fortunate I am to know this.
As a child I was privileged to be part of one of his plays.
This had a very profound effect on me.
Thank you New York State Literary Center


The New York State Literary Center makes me think about being a parent and being there for my kids and my loved ones. I am a parent, and I am in jail and my kids come to see me. They tell me they miss me and always wish that I am home. I never had a parent who was locked up. I am experiencing the same loss and what I did to my kids

D. E.


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've never known a lot about Frederick Douglass or his writing, but from what I am learning now his writing is very enlightening. I don't read a lot, but I want to read his book.

I found Reginald Dwayne Betts' poem very interesting. I was raised by a Black man who served twenty-five years in Attica. I am White. I learned most of what I do know about racial issues from him. Being as I grew up here in Rochester I have seen a lot of violence with way too many children dying. I have been in so many positions that I could have been one of them, but thankfully God has watched over me, and I am still here today.

no place
to be.

But I am here, and I am learning a lot in this program.

S. J.

Today we read and talked about two poets who were born on the same day seventy-eight years apart. Langston Hughes was born on February 1, 1902. He wrote about the American heartbreak,

"The great mistake
That Jamestown made
Long ago"


He wrote of only finding freedom in his writing where he could be free to say things that were unspoken because of racial barriers.

Reginald Dwayne Betts was born on February 1, 1980. He wrote of the modern-day struggles of inner city brothers, the addictions, lifestyles, the holds of probation and child support, the everyday troubles of a Black man.

Today I learned.


Today in this class
hearing the stories of other inmates
made me feel
knowing that our children are
a poignant reminder
of our actions.

All of my family went to my grandmother's for Christmas, all eight daughters and one son. All eight daughters and the one son would bring their own children. The house was full. We all ate as we came, and you would not want to be the last because you would eat the scraps. The food, arroz con grandules, vianda and bacalao, pernil, pollo, arroz blanco, flan, biscochas, arros con dulce, pasteles, coquito, and pastelillos, and quesitos. All of the food was good, and we all had a little of everything on our plates. Kids ran everywhere. Jokes were told. Laughter filled the room. New additions were passed from hand to hand. Pictures were taken and the small children were angry from posing for so long. My grandparents were so happy and love ran through their home. Now my grandparents have gone to Heaven. The tradition is no longer the same, but the food always remains the same in each of my aunts' and my uncle's homes. Now we drive to each home and pick up the food.

waiting for days to pass
for my dreams to begin.

I have lived in Rochester, New York ever since birth. Don't get me wrong I left about three or four times to move out of state and, also, to go to Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is part of the United States, yet I consider myself a minority. I know first-hand the poverty problem we have in Rochester, New York and also in Puerto Rico. The cost of living is rising, and jobs don't pay enough. Many mothers are single mothers and day care costs are so high that unfortunately many children are going hungry at night. Kids are growing up mostly to deal drugs and to steal. As children turn into teens, incarceration begins and families begin to deteriorate. Children without mothers, mothers without children, fathers without families and the government laughs. Slavery is still in play after all of these years.

As I read my writing I see everything come together. It's amazing to see my imagination in words that describe my emotions, the unique way I unravel the images in my mind. Strength is shown by the way a person choses her words. Through my writing I see another side of me. I am able to show my readers writing is a powerful tool. I hope I pass that down to anyone who reads me.

pouring out
to you

Can you see me here in this writing? I do. I see me evolving right before your eyes.



This is the way of the mute,
to hit a perfect note,
a beautiful melody that never felt so real.
I can’t hear it,
but the one who created it
made me a prisoner of his art.
I feel what he felt.
I can be deaf and hear every emotion.
Talk about speaking your mind,
do you want to hear ours?
We are writing.

Jose Nunez


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


In this county and state we have a need for The New York State Literary Center with Dale Davis. We need this organization not only for inmates, but also for our society and for communities across the state. The Community Engagement Seminar with Dale Davis has been the only rehabilitation I have had since being here at Monroe Correctional Facility.

We learn about current events, political issues, international news and much more. Not only myself but the other individuals who participate think about having a positive impact in the community. We talk about real life issues from all corners of the world. Without the Community Engagement Seminar we would still be blinded, inmates set up for the revolving doors of prison and jail.

In jail and prisons we need to be educated and not deterred from education and rehabilitation. We need to be given all of the resources to get back to the world on a positive side. This is where community engagement begins. I have changed because of the Community Engagement Seminar with Dale Davis.

Kentrell Burks