About Our Participants
The most important agents of the OPHP are the individuals who attend the classes. At Oakhill, participants are writers, rappers, musicians, scholars, farmers, businessmen, fathers, husbands, and much more. They are men between 18 and 80-something in age. Some are there for several months; others have been in the system for thirty years. Because the identity of the participants is as a writer, scholar, artist, or musician (whatever they have the bravery to lay claim to) volunteers usually do not know, and never ask, what they are serving their sentences for. Sometimes, however, after continued participation in the classes, students will reference the actions that led to their sentence, which have ranged from non-violent drug-related offenses to property crimes to homicide. Though they come from widely varied backgrounds, one thing almost all of them express is that the classes help them be more honest with themselves and help to remind them of who they are as humans. The classes and volunteers do that by holding a safe space with well-defined boundaries and by bringing in engaging materials, but the participants do much of the remaining work. For some participants, that has meant writing around the acts for which they are serving time, the lives they led before being sentenced, the lives that are going on outside without them, and the lives they hope to build or resume following their release. For others, that work means a deep focus on craft, close reading, or expanding themselves as creative artists. For others still, this process has meant writing to their parents, their partners, or their children with more openness and expressivity. For most, it means getting to experience their peers and themselves as writers and men in the classroom in a different way than they experience each other/themselves on the yard. Frequently these new or changed peer relationships carry over outside of the classroom, and many participants share their writing, readings, and thoughts about both with each other between classes.