‘Writing was my salvation’: InsideOUT Writers brings creative writing to juvenile halls, changes lives


A group laughs while having a discussion at an IOW Writing Circle. The members of the organization’s weekly writing circles include alumni of the program, teachers, board members and interested visitors. Image courtesy of IOW’s Facebook Page. Used with permission from Jimmy Wu.

Imagine being imprisoned and confined to a single room. Imagine living in an oppressive environment filled with violence and brutality. According to the ACLU, 60,000 children experience these circumstances on any given day in the United States in juvenile detention facilities.

The United States holds the world’s highest incarceration rate per 100,000 for both youths and adults. Data was obtained from NPR.

InsideOUT Writers, a Los Angeles-based non-profit organization, is working to solve the high rates of youth incarceration and recidivism in America through creative writing.

According to an article published by The Huffington Post, writing has numerous benefits, including helping people come to terms with past trauma, express their emotions and improve communication skills.

InsideOUT Writers is now taking this philosophy to juvenile halls and jails throughout Los Angeles County. The organization also serves as a support network for formerly incarcerated youth.

Co-founded by Sister Janet Harris, who served as the chaplain at Central Juvenile Hall in downtown Los Angeles, and former Los Angeles Times journalist Duane Noriyuki, IOW holds 39 weekly classes in four different juvenile detention centers.

Featured above is an infographic from InsideOUT Writers’ website. The recidivism rate in California is estimated to be as high as 70 percent, according to IOW. Used with permission from Jimmy Wu of InsideOUT Writers.

“In prison, you can’t express your emotions and talk to other inmates. Prison isn’t a place for that. You have to carry this facade of being an untouchable, unfeeling individual. Part of prison is survival. You don’t want to be considered weak in any way whatsoever,” Wu said.

“Because of this experience, writing was my salvation. It helped me remember who I really was and who I wanted to be.”

Disclosure: The author of this article, Alexandra Chang, personally supports InsideOUT Writers and will continue to be involved with the organization in the future.