PEN welcomes developments in prison writing suit, workshop suspension
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
New York, NY, April 14, 2004—Assurances that Connecticut’s Department of Corrections will continue Wally Lamb’s Creative Writing Program at the York Correctional Institution and that the State of Connecticut will soon announce a successful settlement in Connecticut’s lawsuit against 8 women who contributed to a successful anthology of prison writings entitled Couldn’t Keep it to Myself are “very positive” developments, according to PEN American Center Freedom to Write Program Director Larry Siems.
“Yesterday’s meeting with DOC Commissioner Theresa Lantz, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, State Representative Denise Merrill, and author Wally Lamb was extremely useful in clarifying the status of the lawsuit and the writing workshop and in confirming the state’s commitment to this and other prison writing programs,” said Siems. “We appreciate the Attorney General’s effort to settle the lawsuit against these women and his determination that the monetary benefit associated with a recent PEN award would go to the recipient and her family rather than the state. In addition, we welcome the Commissioner’s pledge that the workshop that is co-taught by Wally Lamb and York Correctional Institution school teacher Dale Griffith will continue unimpeded, and look forward to hearing from the workshop staff and participants that these wonderful classes have resumed,” added Siems.
PEN has named Barbara Parsons Lane, an inmate at York and one of the contributors to the anthology, as the recipient of its 2004 PEN/Newman’s Own First Amendment Award. The award, which includes a cash prize of $25,000, will be presented next Tuesday, April 20, at the annual PEN Gala in New York; Ms. Lane’s daughter and son will accept the award on her behalf.
Reports that the authorities at York C.I. had suspended the writing program, seized or erased computer disks containing student work, and reassigned Ms. Griffith following the announcement of the award prompted PEN to lodge a formal protest with the Commissioner and Attorney General. Yesterday’s meeting resulted in assurances from the Commissioner that the program would be allowed to resume, that reports that some computer files had been erased would be investigated, and that Mr. Lamb and Ms. Griffith would continue to lead the program.
At the meeting, Attorney General Blumenthal also announced that the state has settled all outstanding issues with HarperCollins, the publishers of Couldn’t Keep It To Myself, and is within days of announcing a settlement of the lawsuits the state brought against the women authors under Connecticut’s Cost of Incarceration statute. Moreover, the Attorney General, the Commissioner, and Representative Merrill expressed support for an amendment now pending in the legislature that would exempt income that results from rehabilitative activities from possible seizure in the future.
“We were enormously relieved to hear that this exemplary program will not only be allowed to resume but may be enhanced and expanded,” Siems said today in New York. “We look forward to the news that Mr. Lamb and Ms. Griffith are back in the classroom at York and that the women in the program are continuing their difficult and impressive work. We also eagerly await the formal announcement of the legal settlement that will lift the cloud that has been hanging over the group’s head for more than a year.”
Larry Siems, (212) 334-1660, ext. 105