Poetry workshops
Published ex-con shares writing techniques with young offenders

by Jeff Colbourne
Northern News Services

NNSL (May 01/98) - Young offenders and youth at risk of getting in trouble who want to improve their literacy skills and express themselves through writing should soon feel inspired.

The NWT Literacy Council has hired renowned authors Stephen Reid and Susan Musgrave to conduct writing workshops in Yellowknife at youth custody and correctional centres.

"Every year we receive project funding to do a program that is geared towards at-risk youth," said Carla Bullinger, executive director of NWT Literacy Council.

This year, the council spoke with instructors working with at-risk youth to find out what youth would be interested in doing.

From discussions the council discovered that most students are interested in poetry.

Reid and Musgrave have a strong connection to the written word and the justice system. Reid on the inside, Musgrave on the outside.

Reid, a former resident of Ontario, now living in B.C., began writing in 1984 while serving a 21-year prison sentence for bank robbery. His first book, Jackrabbit Parole, was published in 1985 while he served his sentence.

His biography, The Stopwatch Gang, was published in 1992 and has been chosen for film by Tri Star Productions in Los Angeles.

His wife, Susan Musgrave, who has worked in public schools, psychiatric institutions and maximum-security penitentiaries across the country has published 19 books. She is a poet, novelist, children's writer, essayist, columnists and poetry reviewer.

She is currently the chair of the Writers' Union of Canada.

"The two of them together have been facilitating workshops for a number of years in this kind of a setting," said Bullinger.

Before coming to Yellowknife, Reid spent a week in Hay River speaking with young offenders. He incorporated drama with writing in his workshops because literacy levels were low among the students, said Bullinger.

In Yellowknife the two will be working in the correctional centre as well as open custody homes.

The purpose of the workshops is to get troubled youth excited about writing.

"To give them an opportunity to work on their literacy skills and also to explore it as a way of expressing themselves," said Bullinger.

"One thing that Susan and Steven have said is that the people that they work with find it a very good way to express some of the things that they're feeling," she said.

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