Writing About Life in Prison

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James Trent, an inmate at Stateville Correctional Center, in Illinois, wrote an essay about a memory he has cherished for a decade: one day, a bird flew into his cell. "For a few minutes, I felt like I was somewhere else,” he wrote. "It was a small crack in a routine that sets my life every day.” Trent and other prisoners at the facility reflected on their lives in prison in a workshop led by the journalist Alex Kotlowitz. Demetrius Cunningham wrote about how he filled his days practicing piano by playing on a replica of the instrument’s keyboard, which he constructed out of cardboard. And William Jones wrote about everything his prison cell lacks—including a criminal who “died a long time ago.” The stories were performed for The New Yorker Radio Hour by Ric Walker, Sean Parris, and Cedric Young, in collaboration with WBEZ’s podcast Written Inside.