Alabama: Black Birds Singing

John Lomax and his son Alan toured the South in the 1930s gathering music for the Library of Congress. Life then, and now, can be pretty tough in Alabama prisons. We travel with the inspirational Alabama Prison Arts & Education Project looking for prison poetry and prison poets to discover how the music of poetry heals

Segment A:

We visit Staton prison, where a group of ten prisoners gather around a table with Keyes Stevens of the the Alabama Prison Arts and Education Project. The group believes in creating a safe space for sharing poetry, but it also has high standards. When an inmate’s poetry is found wanting, the group isn’t shy about calling him out.


Workshop: Keyes Stevens takes listeners through a writing exercise where they explore disparate objects through verse. Former prisoner and poet Bryce Johnson then breaks in to tell us how he once broke out, and how pastimes like poetry helped keep him out of  trouble once he was caught and brought back to prison.

Poetry can play a huge role in a young person’s life, especially if that young person gets caught up in the juvenile justice system. Former wards of the state of Alabama like Daniel Miller tell us about the Alabama Writers Forum, where teachers succesfully connect with at-risk kids through poetry and where one veteran teacher says he’s never encountered a behavior problem. Then poet and ex-offender Randall Horton tells  us how poetry helped him gain a deeper sense of self and family.


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