Words No Bars Can Hold: Literacy Learning in Prison

In Words No Bars Can Hold: Literacy Learning in Prison, Deborah Appleman chronicles her work teaching college-level classes at a high security prison for men, most of whom are serving life sentences. Her book provides a rare glimpse into literacy learning under the most dehumanizing conditions. rough the writing of narrative, poetry, memoir, and fiction the students in Appleman’s classes attempt to write themselves back into a society that has erased their lived histories. As we read their writing and witness these students develop and interrogate their identities as readers and writers, the transformative power of literacy becomes clear.

Words No Bars Can Hold:
Literacy Learning in Prison

In Words No Bars Can Hold: Literacy Learning in Prison, Deborah Appleman chronicles her work teaching college-level classes at a high security prison for men, most of whom are serving life sentences. Her book provides a rare glimpse into literacy learning under the most dehumanizing conditions. rough the writing of narrative, poetry, memoir, and fiction the students in Appleman’s classes attempt to write themselves back into a society that has erased their lived histories. As we read their writing and witness these students develop and interrogate their identities as readers and writers, the transformative power of literacy becomes clear.

This book is both an argument for the importance of education for the incarcerated, and a consideration of how to interrupt the increasingly common pathway from urban schools to our nation’s prisons. From the sobering standpoint of what scholars have called the “school to prison pipeline” the author offers insight from the narratives and experiences of those who have traveled it.

Jean
Jean
Amazon Reviewer
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Great read

I chose this book for our book club because it could generate a discussion of a little thought of population. The incarcerated are not credited with much more than the crimes they have committed. In Deborah Appleman’s book they are fleshed out to become human souls with thoughts and feelings. Her teaching experiences of these men, paired with their personal writings, tells a story of what lies behind those prison walls. Her students show their potential and value through their own words. It definitely raised questions and spurred discussion in our book club. We all walked away from the meeting having learned some things and gained an expanded awareness of this population. I highly recommend this thought provoking book. It’s one you will want to share and recommend too.

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CTO
CTO
Amazon Reviewer
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A compelling and important book

This book is moving and informative. Appleman presents the question: who deserves to learn? Who deserves a liberal arts education? She shares her experience teaching in a men's prison, and she shows us the humanity and the beautiful writing of her students. Everyone should read this book.

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ejay
ejay
Amazon Reviewer
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Eye-opening, thought-provoking, and important

As a follower of The Marshall Project (a nonpartisan organization that "seeks to create and sustain a sense of national urgency about the U.S. criminal justice system"), I thought I was pretty well informed. But this book bowled me over. Honestly, I'm not sure what is most compelling - the deep humanity Appleman clearly brings to this work, or the deep humanity revealed in the writing of the incarcerated individuals she so generously introduces to us. An eye-opening, thought-provoking and important book.

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