This article was first published by Endeavor, a newspaper at Everglades Correctional Institution in Florida. The article has been lightly edited to add clarity and conform with PJP style rules.
Florida state representatives came to Everglades Correctional Institution (ECI) on Dec. 14, 2021, to participate in the graduation of more than 75 students from Exchange for Change’s fall classes.
Rep. Marie Woodson, D-Hollywood, was moved by the men who presented their creative writing during the hour-long event, which was followed by pizza and refreshments.
“Today I am glad I was here to listen,” said Woodson. “Some of the greatest minds behind bars are in this room.”
Fourteen residents were part of the showcase that evidenced just how important it is for men to get out of their comfort zones and impact the world around them with their talents.
Rep. Robin Bartleman, D-Weston, spoke during the comments session that followed the showcase.She shared how the powerful presentations gave her a new perspective.
“You really moved me today,” she said. “I will be sharing this with others when I return to Tallahassee.”
Jeremy Bodway was one of the graduates in attendance. This was his third graduation. The Just Write Core and Just Write Classic curriculums, both of which he took this semester, taught him that he had the ability to write in new styles if he was willing to push himself and be uncomfortable.
Florida International University Senior Director of Continuing Education Jorge Zumaeta said he hoped the men in Exchange for Change would inspire growth in others with the growth they’ve experienced during the classes they participated in.
The ceremony was led by two emcees — Anthony Cobb and Michael Ster.
Graduates, visitors and guests experienced a range of emotions due to the words that these men shared before the crowded room. Red, gold and silvery Christmas tinsel were strung from the ceiling lights, offering a cheerful contrast to many of the presentations. A few laughs were offered up in response to the touching and sometimes painful words that poured from the depths of men more inclined to remain behind the scenes.
Edward Demoreta opened the showcase with a piece about how moments experienced in prison were different from those same experiences outside of the fences. He used an example of seeing a sunset on the way to eat dinner in the dining hall one day. You can observe the beauty of a sunset in prison, but are prevented from feeling it, he explained. He compared it to the feeling of seeing a photograph of a sunset, which does not provide the same effect he would experience when seeing sunsets before coming to prison.
Heads in the audience nodded in agreement when Jonathan Wright shared his observations from “The Literature of James Baldwin” class he took. With his freshly pressed blue uniform over a bright white T-shirt, Wright concluded, “Everyone is important.”
These words were a perfect takeaway from the event and spoke to the value of writing and being heard from within prison.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.