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The writer with one of his Paws for Life dogs Hunter
Photo courtesy of Lawrence May

Prison conjures up feelings of isolation, regret and loss. 

But no matter how oppressive life behind walls can feel, it can’t extinguish the human spirit.

That’s why people inside, like anyone else, cultivate commitments to art, hobbies and education. 

Stamp collecting, writing, dancing, math: In the stories collected below, PJP contributors reflect on the commitments that help them remain in touch with their humanity. They are outlets for growing the mind, experiencing joy and expressing oneself — vital acts for all people, but especially for those locked behind bars.

The Power of the Written Word by Brandon Lee Sr.: “I discovered my passion for the written word in an 8-foot-by-10-foot cell.” 

The writer with one of his Paws for Life dogs Hunter

How Stamps and Dogs Kept Me Sane by Lawrence May: “The two outlets that have gotten me through these difficult and emotional times have been my joy of collecting postage stamps, and my love for dogs.”

Dancing Daydreams in a Penitentiaryby John Adams: “To be fair, I am making a bit of a spectacle of myself. Not that I have a choice in this overcrowded human warehouse. Given my introverted nature though, I’d prefer practicing my dances unobserved.”

I Love You, Poetryby Michael Eggleston: “Poetry, you are more than words written on a sheet / You are expressions revealing my heartbeat”

The Prison Mathematics Project helps incarcerated people study math and build social connections.

Finding a New Life in Mathby Chris Bistryski: “When Christopher Havens emerged from a year in solitary confinement, he reached out for community in an unlikely place: the world of math.”

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.

Audreyanah McAfee is is an editorial intern at Prison Journalism Project and passionate about creative writing and people. They are attending UC Berkeley’s School of Journalism where they hope to uplift others through written word and shared experiences.