The Gate’s Cook County Jail Writing Workshop is a student-run volunteer program that piloted in winter 2017 after the Gate’s staff toured the jail and interviewed Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart in spring 2016. The program consists of University of Chicago students facilitating creative and reflective writing workshops at Cook County Department of Corrections (CCDOC) throughout the school year.
For the 2017-2018 school year, students will travel to the jail three to five times per quarter and volunteer with detainees for an hour each visit. During this time, volunteers will introduce themselves and the writing prompts they have prepared. After dedicated brainstorming time, each detainee has the opportunity to write their own piece and potentially share with the group. Student volunteers may also write a piece with the group, or help individual detainees improve or expand upon their writing. The writing workshops finish with a discussion on how to use writing as a tool for creativity and self-reflection for detainees in the future. With a focus on writing, these workshops also strive to create a supportive space for community, sharing and mutual learning.
Student volunteers from the University of Chicago undergo an application process and then sign a University of Chicago waiver and fill out a CCDOC background check. Students must be credentialed at the jail and must adhere to University of Chicago and CCDOC stipulations while volunteering at the jail, including maintaining confidentiality. For the fall 2017 quarter, students will work with detainees in gender segregated groups in minimum security divisions of the jail, as per University of Chicago guidelines. Volunteers will also participate in debriefs and write issue-related articles for The Gate.