Inmate Pens New Sentences for Jail Writing Contest

Jewuan Threat sometimes has a hard time talking about his feelings.

The 26-year-old has been to jail several times — this time for a heroin possession charge — and he doesn't get many opportunities to verbalize his emotions. Threat shared a rare moment of vulnerability Monday afternoon when he read his prize-winning poem to inmates and guests at Virginia's Arlington County Detention Facility.

"I dream about the future. I dream about the past," he read. "I dream about the mountains. I dream about the sea. I dream of all the places that I would rather be."

Threat read the poem during the first-ever Inmate Creative Writing Contest awards ceremony. It was organized by the Arlington Sheriff's Office. 

The contest judges received 98 entries, and picked first-, second- and third-place winners in three categories: fiction, non-fiction and poetry. Threat's poem got top prize over 82 others penned by inmates.

Threat got the inspiration to write his poem all at once, he said. It only took five minutes to jot down his ideas. 

"It actually surprised me, to be honest," he said. "I wrote that while I was waiting for lunch."

The poem is about Threat's brother, who is also in prison serving a life sentence.

"He pretty much told me that sometimes he feels wrong for having big dreams because he's not going to be able to fulfill them," he said. "I kind of put myself in his shoes to write that poem."

Even though Threat's dreams are stalled by his time behind bars, it's given him time to explore creativity and release emotion. He said he may one-day pursue writing as a career.

That's exactly what contest organizer Jane Collins said she hoped inmates would get out of the contest.

"Our mission is to reach populations that don't get to be heard," she said.

Inmates don't always know how to express themselves, and that sometimes can lead them to acting out. Giving them a coping mechanism to verbalize what they are thinking and feeling has positive effects. And it can build up their self-esteem.

"The fact that there is somebody that wants to hear their story makes them feel valued, makes them feel special, makes them feel worthy," she said. 

"Everyone's story deserves to be told."

"Everyone's story deserves to be told."

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