The Committee for Advocacy for Incarcerated People: An Interview with Amanda Hadlock, Brett Hanley, and Anthony Borruso
In the fall of 2021, members of Southeast Review’s masthead met and discussed a new initiative: The Committee for Advocacy for Incarcerated People. It was inspired in part due to previous work by FSU alum Dyan Neary, a former SER Nonfiction Editor, who began holding writing workshops with incarcerated writers in 2019, as well as SER’s long-standing goal of inviting submissions from incarcerated writers. Spearheaded by Amanda Hadlock, SER’s Assistant Editor, the committee planned a two-day writing workshop with the nearby women’s prison, Gadsden Correctional Facility. Following the completion of the workshop in February of 2022, I had the chance to follow up with the members of the committee, Amanda and SER Poetry Editors Brett Hanley and Anthony Borruso, to talk about their experiences..
Currently, SER is interested in increasing its publications by incarcerated writers and invites both incarcerated writers and those who know and work with incarcerated writers to submit. Submissions can be sent through our Submittable page or by mail to the below address:
English Department, Williams Building
Florida State University
Tallahassee, FL 32306
Please help us spread the word!
Savannah Trent: Have any of you had experiences with running creative writing workshops outside of a college classroom? What made you decide to participate in this initiative?
I know the wealth of stories incarcerated people have to tell.
Amanda Hadlock: This initiative is something close to my heart, as my own parents were incarcerated when I was growing up and I know the wealth of stories incarcerated people have to tell. I had previously co-led a workshop for homeless and unstably housed youth in Springfield, Missouri, but this was my first time leading a workshop for incarcerated individuals. Compared to a more formal, academic setting, the community workshop experience felt like a more low-stakes environment. The participants were able to write whatever they wanted, from poetry, to short nonfiction, to one participant even writing and performing a rap. The low-stakes nature of the setting was conducive to the participants taking creative risks and being unafraid to share.
Brett Hanley: I’ve run workshops in the Poetic Technique classes I teach at FSU. I wanted to participate in the workshop at the Gadsden Correctional Facility because prison abolition is something I feel passionate about, and it felt like a small thing I could do. I increasingly feel like I could be doing a lot more! I’m also really interested in expanding SER’s reach to the incarcerated population. I want to help spread the word about us and for us to get more submissions from incarcerated writers.
Anthony Borruso: I did have some prior workshop experience that helped to inform this one. At Butler University, while getting my MFA, I was a co-leader of the Writing in the Schools (WITS) program at Shortridge High School where we ran a weekly after-school creative writing workshop. It was a wonderful time, as their underserved student population really took to our writing prompts and delighted in sharing their work during our “open mic” portion. To see burgeoning writers developing their craft and learning the power of honing their voice is always exhilarating. I’ve also taught a creative writing workshop at Ivy Tech Community College in Indianapolis, which was similarly rewarding. My students there were curious and ambitious young writers who, though many were new to the craft, made great gains in terms of learning how to use syntax, metaphor, structure, and other formal features to their advantage. Workshopping at Gadsden, I felt, would give me another chance to help aspiring writers find a voice and share their unique stories. I wanted to spend time with people who’ve led very different lives from me and help to bring them the feeling of joy and liberation that I often find when writing.
ST: As this was a group initiative, how did you divide the work among yourselves? Were there particular tasks you felt drawn to?