JoCo on the Go Podcast: Creative writing with Corrections

On JoCo on the Go, episode #140, hear about a program that’s inspiring some justice-involved Johnson County residents. Through the Johnson County Department of Corrections, and with the support of Johnson County Library, NCircle and a local poet, students at the Adult Residential Center are learning about creative writing. It’s just one of many ways they’re getting the support they need while incarcerated or post release to get back on their feet and find their path in the world. Hear from the instructor about the therapeutic benefits of putting pen to paper.

JoCo on the Go Podcast: Creative writing with Corrections

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Time Subject
00:28 Introduction
01:51 About the creative writing program
04:56 Who is benefitting from the program?
08:37 Why Corrections makes reading a priority
12:39 Ways those in the program can use their skills
16:58 The future of the program


Theresa Freed 0:00 

Another Johnson County partnership is making a big difference in the lives of justice-involved individuals. On this episode, hear about how creative writing is creating a new outlet for those served by the Adult Residential Center.

Announcer 0:15 

Whether you live in or just love Johnson County, Kansas, JoCo on the Go has everything Johnson County. Here's what's happening and what's coming up in the community you call home.

Theresa Freed 0:28 

Thanks for joining us for JoCo on the Go. I'm your host, Theresa Freed, a Johnson County resident and employee of Johnson County Government. For individuals who have come in contact with the criminal justice system, there are plenty of barriers to getting back on your feet and avoiding another run-in with the law. But the Johnson County Department of Corrections is continuing its efforts to help individuals in this situation. And the Johnson County Library is doing its part as well. Here to talk about that, we've got several representatives from both departments and some additional special guests who are going to help talk through some of the details of this program. So thank you all for joining us here today. And we're gonna kind of go around the room and do some introductions, and we're gonna start with Katelyn.

Katelyn Rauckman 1:13 

Hi, I'm Katelyn Rauckman. I'm a social worker with NCircle. We're a nonprofit here in Johnson County.

Theresa Freed 1:21 

Alright, Melody.

Melody Kinnamon 1:23 

Hello, I'm Melody Kinnamon. And I am the incarcerated services librarian with Johnson County Library.

Theresa Freed 1:30 

And Ronda.

Ronda Miller 1:33 

Hi, I'm Ronda Miller. I'm a poet and a life coach and I am a published author and I work with the students.

Theresa Freed 1:43 

Alright. And last up.

Jorge Gaona 1:45 

Jorge Gaona. I'm the volunteer and program coordinator for Johnson County Department of Corrections.

Theresa Freed 1:51 

Alright, again, thank you all for being here. I am so excited to talk about this new program. I know it's, the partnership itself is not necessarily new, but this particular class is new. And so we want to talk about that. So maybe Melody if you want to get us started with just describing what creative writing we're talking about here.

Melody Kinnamon 2:11 

Well, the creative writing class has been ongoing for a while with the College of Trade students. But this was the first year that Katelyn reached out to the library and asked us with help with finding an instructor. And so that's what we did. I relied on my colleague who runs the local writers program at the library to help me find Ronda and we were really fortunate that we could connect.

Theresa Freed 2:38 

So Ronda, just tell me how it is that you got involved in this and what it's been like.

Ronda Miller 2:43 

A good friend of mine, Brian Deldorf, who has been going into the system here in Douglas County for the last 20 years, taking poetry into the prison every Thursday. I'd gone in with him a couple of times, he let me know someone had reached out to him. And they were looking for an instructor. And he basically said it was something that he thought was a good fit for me. So I applied and then luckily had the ability to meet Melody and interview in person and hit it off very well. And it's been a beautiful program and going into it, I knew I'd learn as much from the students as they would for me, and it's certainly proven to be the case.

Theresa Freed 3:22 

And just to kind of take a step back and talk about all the things I guess, you know, the Department of Corrections is doing with the Adult Residential Center in terms of helping individuals get back on their feet, like I mentioned, and kind of find their place in this world and have a successful path going forward.

Jorge Gaona 3:43 

Yes, Johnson County has been, you know, working with quite a few partners out there, primarily NCircle and the library are really big on putting programs in place to kind of build that competence up to help figure out, you know, their job skills and just start to layer the skills in order to be more successful when they reenter the community.

Theresa Freed 4:04 

Katelyn, if you want to talk a little bit about what is NCircle and what does that partnership look like.

Katelyn Rauckman 4:10 

NCircle is a nonprofit here in Johnson County. One of our main programs is the College of Trades Program, which is a 12-week program, and NCircle coordinates the collaboration between Johnson County Department of Corrections, Johnson County Community College, Goodwill of Western Missouri and Eastern Kansas, Johnson County Public Library, Metro to Excel, Engaged South KC and a ton of volunteers from the community. So all these different local agencies come together for College of Trade, which has three main parts: the essential skills for the workplace, so those life skills, trade skills, and then what we call College of Arts. And so creative writing kind of falls under that College of Arts aspect of the whole person for this program.

Theresa Freed  4:57 

And so for the Department of Corrections, it seens like a very holistic approach to helping individuals. So can you talk about at what stage of incarceration, or post-incarceration, are people receiving these services?

Jorge Gaona 5:10 

So our campus out here, in New Century, the Adult Residential Center has quite a few components to it. Its work release and state work release in the therapeutic community. Primarily, a lot of the clients in the therapeutic community end up in the culture trades, they have six months of inpatient treatment. So they're in the facility 24 hours a day. So for them, they're basically rebuilding their lives. It takes quite a bit to get into the therapeutic community. So when they come, you know, they really kind of seen or lost a lot of things. And so the good part with the College of Trades, and with the library, the library has a library on site here at the Adult Residential Center. So they have actual books and librarians that come out, and Melody comes out twice a week, and they'll exchange books. So for us, is given in those tools. You know, the recidivism rate is fairly high when we talk about incarcerated individuals, and so we try to take an evidence-based practice, and a little bit different route in order to give them tools. So when they get out of here, when they when they graduate, they have something to fall back on. They have the tools to use instead of just walking them through and then sending them back out. That's our primary purpose. And it's been doing really good.

Theresa Freed 6:38 

I know on this podcast, and you know, just in various ways the public information office is has highlighted some of these success stories. And I know even the success stories are being highlighted around the country. I mean, really, other communities are modeling a lot of the work that's being done here, which is really exciting. So how are people who are participating in the programs, how are they responding to the services they receive?

Jorge Gaona 7:06 

You know, I actually took the class. So I sat in the class in the first semester. And so as the volunteers and programs Coordinator, I will sit in a lot of our programs just to evaluate, make sure everything is going well, and things like that. It really, you know, it was really eye opening, because they were able, they as in the clients and myself, I wrote things that I never thought I would write. I'm not a writer per se, but you're really, you know, Ronda does a great job, very organic chemistry that's involved there. So, you know, with the fine arts piece for the College of Trades, and that's what we try to do is provide those outlets. So you know, when they do get released from here, they have a pro-social outlet, something they can do, whether it's photography, or you know, creative writing, or fine arts, or arts and painting, we're doing one of those right now. But in the class, you know, Ronda was able to, really, and we had some really special clients in there that really wrote things that, you know, they were going to submit to, I don't want to call it a competition, Ronda, maybe you can help with what that's called. But they did a really great job. Ronda does a great job and is really just organic and builds it, and they're able to express those feelings and work through those feelings that sometimes that they can't do on a regular basis. And I think it really kind of resets them, you know, mentally and physically, kind of a clean slate and able to move forward.

Theresa Freed 8:37 

And it does sound like they're getting those the skills they need, you know, to help their families, and also build income and a resume and all that good stuff. But they're also getting this piece that sounds very therapeutic, helping people express their emotions in a productive way and a creative way. And so, you know, Melody, I've been through some of our facilities and seeing, you know, the stacks of books. And it's clear that it's very important that the individuals served have access to reading materials. And so can you talk about why that's a priority for the library and the Department of Corrections?

Melody Kinnamon 9:17 

Well, the clients are one day going to be back out in the community. They are our neighbors and friends and family members. And we want them, while they are serving their time, to be fully engaged with the library. And so that's why we feel it's very important for them to be able to have access to ideas and information, as well as programs. And I just cannot say enough about Ronda. It's not just that we have this creative writing program, it's that we have Ronda. Because she has connected so well with the students. I see them every week. And every week somebody comes in and tells me something from that class that they're either excited about, soothed, encouraged. It's just really interesting. And I just can't say enough about Ronda's ability to connect with them and empathize with them, and get them to believe that they are writers, that they can write. And also, she does a great job of including them in the larger writing community. She's done several things. It's not just her classroom. She's like, "Hey, guys, let's get involved out in the community with writing." And I really appreciate that she has done that for them. And like I said, I've seen their confidence. They're just super excited about her class, and they have connected with her.

Theresa Freed 10:42 

Alright, so Ronda, now you're on the spot. So tell us all about your process. How do you kind of develop your curriculum? And how do you make those connections with the individuals in the program?

Ronda Miller 10:55 

Interestingly enough, even though I'm teaching the importance of voice for trauma transformation, one of the key components of my end is to listen, and to listen to what they are saying and to what their needs are. We have very different individuals, their life experiences are very different one from another. But yet, we all have a lot in common. And I try to really find that common piece right off the bat, the first day that I go in, to let them know that I have had trauma in my life, that I've had life experiences that perhaps people shouldn't have had. But that they have had, and that maybe we just have different ages. Last semester, a couple of the books that I utilized were very well accepted. And the students really read them from cover to cover. And this time, I'm finding that some of the clients don't relate so much. So I listen to what their needs are. And a lot of times, this last week, for example, I took in some of my own books and read some of my own poetry, because they are some trauma experiences that they immediately related to. Jorge was very instrumental in allowing us to let the students listen to music without lyrics. And it inspires them to then write their own lyrics. So they do a lot of spoken word poetry. My biggest objective in teaching is for them to understand that they are worthwhile individuals, that they have their story to share, and that it's an important story, and that I embrace them and respect them as the individual that they are.

Theresa Freed 12:39 

That sounds amazing. And so can you talk a little bit about how they can use some of the skills that they're getting right there in the class, in the real world? Like, once they're once they're out, they've got a job, they got a family, they got responsibilities, but they also still have maybe some healing that needs to take place. How can they use this?

Ronda Miller 12:58 

One of the things we did this last week that they're writing, to share this coming Monday when I go in is, a couple of them are parents, and even if they aren't parents, they maybe have a niece or a nephew or a child in their life that they love, is to write what their super trait is. You know, that they're a superhero, and they certainly are to their child, whether they want to accept that or not. So they're to write different aspects of themselves that are wonderful, what their superhero skills are. And I think that will help them learn, or, you know, think about what their skills really are. But I also worked with them, I took in so information about peer coaching, so that they know that they can have been in the situation that they've been in. But there are jobs, there are people that will hire them. And that is such an important role to play as a peer coach for them. And how many of them would do that so wonderfully? Well, by sharing their story, by sharing their personal experiences. And certainly have had some of them enter, as Jorge mentioned, the Kansas Author's Club contest, the state contest. And this last time, my very first day of class, I had been commissioned to write a poem for the opening of a crisis center in Douglas County. And so I was having a bit of difficulty with the poem and wanted to make sure I wasn't writing something that would be offensive to them, for example. And so I gave them copies of it and asked if they would write comments, and they all turned in magnificent items. The person in Lawrence who had commissioned me for the poem was sent their comments. I asked if I could have permission to write their words into my poem. He gave me that permission. And I got permission, of course from Jorge to be able to do that. And I went back the next class session and let them know that they were now considered published poets. I mean, they were just absolutely thrilled. And you know, to give them that confidence there again in who they are that, they really are respected and loved, and have a story to share. And I just hope that they then continue using their voices and sharing their stories.

Theresa Freed 15:14 

That's pretty impressive. A resume builder, as part of the program was just really, really amazing. So Katelyn, can you talk about how, you know, whether it's being able to express yourself or being able to edit or write? How do those skills translate into potential jobs?

Katelyn Rauckman 15:33 

I think creativity is needed everywhere, right? Not like in our jobs, but how we draft an email, how we think through problem solving, how we engage with our employees, with our employers, with our co-workers. And so having that creative outlet and thinking through more than one way of doing something, and also that what they have to say is important. I think those go hand in hand and really play well off of each other. And so we're really appreciative for this class and the transformative work that it is doing with our clients. Their confidence really does grow through this class. And it's amazing to see.

Theresa Freed 16:19 

And so what kind of feedback are you hearing directly from the clients?

Katelyn Rauckman 16:25 

Well, I think about three weeks in a row, I heard "I'm a published poet" from the clients. And so that was a ton of excitement through there. We've had them read at graduation after last semester. Two of them read their poems, and several people got a little choked up, just hearing their stories. And so I think that was really powerful. And the peers as well are responding to their stories. And so seeing their peer be vulnerable and express themselves. I mean, they're all feeding off each other in that way.

Theresa Freed 17:07 

Alright, anybody else want to tell us a little bit about this program or the benefits of it?

Jorge Gaona 17:12 

And Theresa, if I can, it's one of those things that really allows them to open up, and a big piece of that, and Ronda kind of touched base on it, is the parenting piece. So you know, about their child and the library does a fantastic job. They do Read to Me, which kind of just brings it full circle. And so Read to Me is, the library will come in, and they'll have books, and the clients will come down and they'll read the books, which gets recorded. And then they put that recording onto a CD, where we're stepping up with the time that we're trying to go to a QR code. But then they'll send it to the child. And then the child can read the book and hear the parent while they're, you know, reading along with them. So it's one of those things where it breaks down those barriers. And it shows, like Katelyn said, it shows vulnerability. But at the same time, there's so much growth there, and it makes it a family unit. So it really does a great job all the way around.

Theresa Freed 18:16 

That's a really neat thing. The recording of the book, it's just, you think about it. It's probably kind of a constant reminder every time the child listens to that reading that their parent cares about them, even though they're not there in person. So that's really amazing. There's just so so many awesome things about the partnership between the Department of Corrections and the library. I love being able to talk about it and highlight it. Melody, where do you see the program going from here?

Melody Kinnamon 18:45 

Well, of course, we want to continue, and we hope that Ronda can continue to teach. She seems to be just such a perfect fit. And we would also like to maybe work with Katelyn and her team at NCircle to add even more classes. Katelyn and I have talked about, you know, maybe doing a class on debate, a debate team, or we could we could put our heads together and think of all sorts of ideas. Katelyn does all the hard administrative work of getting everything in line. And then if the library can come along and find instructors and fund that piece, I think it could really grow.

Theresa Freed 19:20 

I was a two-time state debate champion height in high school. So if you need some help, I can't really remember how to do any of it, but I'm still interested. So you know, if you need some help that are just let me know. So again, very excited to hear about the success of this program and the impact that it's having. Is there anything our listeners can do to support the program or support those who are participating in the program out in the community?

Melody Kinnamon 19:48 

Well, I would like to say that the Johnson County Library Foundation funds this project. They look for donors to help us with this. So if anyone wants to contribute or give funds to the Johnson County Foundation they will be put to really good use.

Theresa Freed 20:07 

Perfect. Alright, any other final thoughts before we wrap it up?

Ronda Miller 20:10 

Just like to say for people in the community to embrace people when you, you know, meet someone on the street and they let you know their story, their personal story and perhaps they've been incarcerated is to, you know, open your heart to them and appreciate that, you know, that could be your son or your daughter. And for many of us, it is the case that a relative has also been incarcerated. But you know, to appreciate that for different life experiences, they, you know, have gone through some amazing things and have come out in many respects just absolutely wonderful, wonderful people. The stories that they've they've shared with me, their creativity, and their ability to express those feelings has been just amazing. It's been very heartfelt.

Theresa Freed 20:45 

Wonderful thoughts to wrap us up today. Again, thank you all for being here. And I wish you luck in the continued success of the program. And Ronda, hopefully you find a way to continue to be involved in the program as well. And thank you for listening.

Announcer 21:11 

You just heard JoCo on the Go. Join us next time for more everything Johnson County. Have a topic you want to discuss? We want to hear from you. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter at jocogov. For more on this podcast, visit Thanks for listening.

Department of Corrections