Reflecting on literature can provide inmates with a second chance to imagine and begin trying to create a new life for themselves. In order for this to be successful there needs to be a high level of self-awareness and honesty with oneself, no matter how painful. Through books, poetry, song lyrics and other mediums of artistic expression inmates like everyone else have many options available to them and can choose authors that reflect their inner voice and also provide examples of role models whom they would like to identify with. Literature encourages self-exploration and honesty and this opens up the potential for sincere reflection over the crimes that an individual has committed and but has not made peace with or moved on from.
Managing powerful emotions is a challenge for all people. For persons who have learned negative behavior patterns and/or had others enable such behaviors, who struggle with substance abuse issues, or have experienced insecure attachments in childhood, managing emotions can be a lot more challenging. Unfortunately the environment in an institution usually reinforces negative behaviors such as posturing, bullying and manipulation (not through policy but simply by means of the pecking order resulting from a congregate of individuals with criminal behaviors). By engaging with literature provided within institutions, inmates are given an escape from this world with its specific set of social rules and hierarchies.
Fiction and non-fiction writing alike can provide a peephole into a created or observed reality that can more accurately reflect the find of lifestyle that inmates would choose to live moving forward after being incarcerated.
Without an outlet for artistic and emotional expression inmates would become immersed in only the thought-patterns of themselves and those around them who are also institutionalized. Literature offers unlimited perspectives into the world and society and offers an outlet for those who are used to containing their emotions until they erupt in inappropriate bursts. Behind anger and egoism there is a more fragile centre in all of us- those who have committed crimes are no exception. Connecting to other voices and ideas gives us the building blocks to design who we want to be. We create and re-create ourselves and all hope for additional chances when we make mistakes. I think that people who are institutionalized can use literature to leverage themselves into a new life. It is also a productive way to cope with hours of boredom and use that time for the reflection that it was intended for..