Why I Write is a written and audio collaboration between two groups of writers who never met. In Spring 2016, undergraduate English majors at Florida Atlantic University exchanged writing and readings over the course of a semester with writers at Dade Correctional Institution, through the support of the prison writing organization Exchange for Change. Their exchange provided a framework for a broader investigation into how we know what we know about incarceration in the United States: how we represent incarceration, how we learn to associate crime with punishment, how mass incarceration became normalized. But this exhibit, like the writing exchange itself, begins with a question: why do we write?

The names provided are the pseudonyms used by the writers to communicate over the course of a semester. Pseudonyms are standard practice for Exchange for Change, which facilitates anonymous writing exchanges between prisons and area universities and high schools, but the anonymity also provides the freedom and agency necessary for any act of expression. The writers learned about each other from a distance, each one freely choosing the terms of their encounter. University students stretched to represent themselves beyond their typical academic signifiers, and imprisoned students had the luxury of revealing a side of themselves disconnected from their assigned prison number.

As a society we have a seemingly insatiable appetite for true crime stories and representations of crime and imprisonment, yet we have very little access to how prisoners represent themselves, how they conceptualize and process imprisonment, express dissent, and fight for their voices to be heard by the outside world. This collection seeks to address some of this absence, building on current archival efforts by the Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives and others to collect contemporary literacy practices, as well as efforts by the American Prison Writing Archive and others to collect testimonial writing by US prisoners, but Why I Write is less a study of writing practices than it is an assembling of beliefs about it. Why I Write shows how writing connects us, offering a dialogue about how writing is shaped by our circumstances as well as what writing might do to change them.

This collection was created and curated Dr. Wendy Hinshaw, Associate Professor of English at Florida Atlantic University and founding board member for Exchange for Change.

Website design by Chris Kohlhagen