Literary journal debuted by LIFE Program students at women's prison

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 To request a copy of “Chiaroscuro,” contact Richard Goode.

After passing 18 hours of college-level courses at Lipscomb University through the LIFE Program (Lipscomb Initiative for Education), 14 inmates of the Tennessee Prison for Women (TPW) felt like it was time for an extra-curricular activity.
Last year they had been impressed by Lipscomb’s literary journal, Exordium. So in 2009, they decided to establish their own: “Chiaroscuro,” a literary journal of more than 20 poems, essays and drawings by women incarcerated in the Tennessee Prison for Women.
On Thursday, April 23, the veteran members of the LIFE Program held a reading for a group of invited guests. For some of the women, it was the first time they had ever presented any creative work in public. Guests included seven Lipscomb University students, three alumni and three professors, who helped edit and design the literary journal over the course of the spring semester.
by Francis Steele

A heart full of love,
Waiting to be released,
Days of loneliness
Waiting for peace.

A lifetime of hurt
Waiting to be healed,
Longing to find
Love that is real.

Days roll by
Turning to years,
Waiting for love
To end the tears.

Souls are empty
Feelings the pain,
Nothing to lose
Everything to gain.
With titles like “Freedom,” “Still Standing,” “Uncertainty,” “Jailhouse Religion,” and “The Road Ahead,” it was not hard to see the themes that run through the works in “Chiaroscuro.”
“It was incredibly uplifting and moving to read these stories because they are so willing to put that raw emotion out there,” said Dana Carpenter, Lipscomb English professor and supervisor of the Lipscomb students who helped edit and design “Chiaroscuro”.
“There is a sense of frustration at injustice in the system, a sense of abandonment, a real intense awareness of loss. They are not complaining and not whining. They are recognizing what we all have, and that is a sense of loss,” said Carpenter. “I would hope (this journal) will be a way for outside readers to get a real sense of who these people are as individuals, and to recognize they have the same kinds of emotions, the same kind of aspirations and fears that we all have.”
The project began in December when a handful of Lipscomb faculty and English department alumni held a workshop for the inmates to discuss the nuts and bolts of putting together a publication, from copy editing to how to keep submissions anonymous. In January, seven students enrolled in an editing class and one student enrolled in the art program, began traveling to the prison once a month to help the inmates put together the journal.
Student Joe Hederick served as the senior editor for the traditional student group. Student Erin Brosey served as the senior art editor. Other traditional students on staff were Katie Jacoby, Richard Harper, Rachel Lovett, Ashley Whitehouse and Madison Conger.

Carpenter was the co-faculty sponsor along with Laura Lake Smith, chair of the art department, whose faculty worked many long hours to help the traditional and TPW students get the journal to the press on time. Lipscomb alumni Andrew and Lindsey Krinks and Megan Shaub also helped the TPW students get started at the initial workshop in December and served as consultants during the process.

The SALT Program, Lipscomb’s service-learning program sponsored the literary journal project and Christin Shatzer, the SALT director, helped the students find donations to print the 56-page journal, which is also available to the public upon request (Contact Richard Goode at
“We offered them our services as copyeditors, and the students have been there to listen and bounce ideas of off,” said Carpenter.
“We went through theme and tone with them, but they came up with the idea of dark and light, and inside and out,” she said. Chiaroscuro is an art term relating to the contrast between dark and light.
“Many of the works are about the memories they have of their life outside the prison, those which they use to survive their prison experience. Some days they feel hopeless and there are other days where they hold on to that idea of redemption. The theme reflects the dark and light of their lives,” she said.
The 14 women who worked on the journal had quite a course load this semester as they are also taking a history class this semester with Richard Goode, the Lipscomb professor who founded Lipscomb’s LIFE Program at TPW in 2006.
Three years ago Goode got the idea of conducting undergraduate liberal arts classes at the Tennessee Prison for Women for college credit. In addition, the inmates would take the classes alongside Lipscomb’s traditional students. He envisioned offering up to 18 hours of courses for each group of inmates.
The program allows the inmates to not only earn college credit they can use upon release, but it expands their relationships and gives them an emotional touchstone while incarcerated. The traditional students get just as much out of the program, as their perspectives are changed and molded by their experiences studying alongside the prison inmates and getting to know them.
“This program has created an atmosphere of growth academically, spiritually and socially,” said Barbi Brown, one of the original participating TPW students at the literature reading. She outlined the many negative messages she and her fellow inmates receive each day, and credited the LIFE Program courses for helping them overcome them.
“For each student and each professor who lets us into their lives, we overcome those obstacles,” she told the crowd. “(The LIFE Program) blends two worlds and eliminates all lines of difference.”
The LIFE Program is one of the hallmark Lipscomb projects that helped Lipscomb earn a spot on the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll with Distinction for exemplary service and the top 25 “Programs to Look For” in service learning nationally in U.S. News & World Report’s “2009 America’s Best Colleges,” said Shatzer.
In December, the first group of 15 inmates were awarded for completing the original 18 hours of college coursework. But they have enjoyed the experience so much, they asked to continue taking courses, and Goode volunteered to be the next professor to drive out the prison once a week and teach. One student from the first group has been paroled and is now taking courses on the Lipscomb campus.
By Quacita Mateyko
What is freedom?
Some people say freedom is being able to walk out of prison gates.
Others believe it is getting out of an abusive relationship.
Though these are some ways a person can achieve freedom,
True freedom comes from within.
It is being able to be yourself even though the world around you is fake.
It is being able to take off the mask you have been wearing your whole life
Without caring who sees the real you.
It is being able to be a room full of people and
being confident in who you are and what you are capable of doing.
It is being able to love people even if they do not love you back.
Freedom is being true to you.
This is what freedom means to me.
What does it mean to you?
A second cohort of students began the 18-hour set of courses in January, and over the next two years they have classes on art appreciation, criminal process, literature of prisons, ethics and political science to look forward to.
Goode said the spots in the LIFE program are highly valued by the TPW students. When he is in the prison walking out to the classroom, it’s not uncommon for an inmate to stop him and ask how they can get into the program.
“Chiaroscuro” is a wonderful example to show how far the TPW students have come over the last three years and all that they can accomplish, he said.
“One of the great things about this project is that it was so student-driven,” said Goode. “They took the tools they are developing in class and applied them in this very concrete way. Soliciting the pieces, critiquing writing, making decisions about what to include: It’s all an opportunity to utilize so much of what they talk about it class. So much of their life is dictated to them. Here, we are saying, ‘You make the tough calls.’”

Robbie Spivey, a Lipscomb adjunct professor who taught a course on literature at the prison and served as the overall coordinator for the literary journal, summed up both the goal of the LIFE Program and the “Chiaroscuro” project: “It’s about so many different perspectives, and taking the time to listen, taking the time to really hear a different perspective.”

To request a copy of “Chiaroscuro,” contact Richard Goode by clicking here.