Literacy Learning and Stanford Prison Experiment

Literacy Learning Within Community Action Projects for Social Change

We were first introduced to Pepe who could not read and felt a sense of shame because of this. In our society today not having the ability to read is something of a secret. Pepe felt no need to share this with the class and when it was brought up he shied away. The adults who led this change in the community wanted to help individuals who also lacked the ability to read. The difference is is that they chose to go about it a different way. Adults were not viewed as being hends of groups but more as members of a team. They didn’t lead they instead asked for opinions and wanted the other individuals to go about leading. This strategy reminded me of jail. We are not the boss’ or leaders we take the roll of facilitators. We are constantly asking the inmates if they like the prompts we bring in and if they have any suggestions. We are there to encourage their writing but we do not force them to produce work. The prompts that we bring in are more of triggers for their creative writing. They are allowed to take the prompts whoever they want. For example many of them like writing raps while others enjoy short stories. It’s up to them on how they want to interpret whatever we bring.

Not only did this group encourage their individuals to continue to read but they were also developing other life skills in the process. They learned to write grants, presentation and research. Step by step they slowly acquired the knowledge to conduct all three of these tasks. I see this progress with the males in my group. Not neccesarily research and grants but I do see it in the development of their writing and presentation. When they first arrived in the workshop they were very tentative in their writing and wouldnt attempt to go past very surface levels topics but as they developed their writing style it slowly became more in depth. This can also be applied to their presentation. Some guys did not want to share, some shared but would be closed off, others talked to fast, and some would talk down. As they realized how comfortable they were they started to open themselves up and understand how they best presented. Some of their poems were meant to be performed in specific ways and this development helped them adapt and understand what each of their pieces needed.

Standard Prison Experiment 

As a psychology major I have heard this study an obnoxious amount of times in every single one of my lectures. Every time we talk about ethics and how wrong it was. But there are a couple of things that did allow insight into human nature. Realizing that as humans we automatically fall to authority, it’s our natural reaction. We also see that authority can in fact effect our personality. The saying “power goes to the head” pretty much sums up a lot of the findings here. But we also see those individuals who refuse to go along with authority and decide to “rebel”. In terms of the officers I am curious on whether the uniform and environment does effect their personalities and how they act around the inmates.

Incarceration and Self Care

“Heaven, Hell, and Here” Understanding the Impact of Incarceration Through a Prison Newspaper

“When subjugated people attempt to challenge the dominant definitions with meanings of their own, they are committing acts of defiance, for any alternative expression of meaning that establishes social differences” (Novek, 2005, pg. 283). This quote was presented early in the article and it immediately caught my attention. Those individuals who are incarcerated have immense trouble going against the status quo. Even those who are not incarcerated have similar issues with attempting to go against the current but for those who are in prisons to even attempt is something that is unheard. There ability to think differently is immediately squelched once they enter the system. I knew this from the beginning but actually reading it really opened up my perspective.

Though prison newspapers have been around for awhile the distribution and content has changed. Historically, the prisons cracked down on wha was written and censored everything that was going to be published. This being said they still censor a good amount of information “Prison journalists face a constant threat of retribution from custodial officers”.  Outsider journalism offers these population to be able to push the status quo and insert their opinion, “They are motivated by society’s desire to isolate and categorize deviant behavior in order to control and punish it” (Novek, 2005, pg. 283). Because of the information that the inmates decide to write many prisons are deciding not to publish their journals.

These journals are useful tools for the inmates. Even as inmates they are encouraged to keep their suffering and emotions inside. Not only can they express their discontent but it also allows them to write about their experiences in a form of therapy. Many of the female inmates are mothers and have lasting emotions from being apart from their family and children

Self Care Strategies 

While reading through this article I had an overwhelming need to stay positive. The act of self care is something I am all too familiar with. As a psychology major we are taught self care from the very second we step into a lecture. “It’s one of the most important things to learn”  says many of professor. If we aernt healthy then how do we expect to help others. Along with that we are expected to consistently take part in all of these strategies. As class’s went on we slowly learned that we might even have our own unique strategies and that was okay.

Taking part in self care is something that many undergraduates take for granted. Because we are not in the field we only hear second hand the effects that not having self care methods can have, and they are not pretty. But still many students immiedetly stop listening when this lecture comes up. Self care isn’t focused on enough in any professions. The need for it expands past mental professions and into all job areas. People just don’t realize this enough.


Literacy As A Continuum


“Literacy is an indispensable foundation that enables young people and adults to engage in learning opprotunities at all stages of the learning continuum” (ibid, pg 6). Literacy as a continuum shows that it’s a growing process that develops over time. That doesn’t mean that you learn literacy over time but with the skills that are acquired allows the individual to increase their knowledge. The basis of literacy is taught at a young age and as we grow and continue we are taught and shown more strategies to understand. Viewing literacy this way leaves much room for improvement and learning.  It also unfortunately does leave out a large majority of the population who does not recieve an education. “The global rate of adults able to read and write was 84.1 percent (88.6% male and 79.9% female)” (Chpt 1, S. 1.2).   If literacy is in fact a continuum then that leaves little devlepment for those who did not start with a basis. It creates a barrier for those uneducated individuals.


There are 6 goals that are related to literacy. (1) Early childhood care and education, (2) Universal completion of primary education, (3) youth adult learning needs, (4) Improving adult literacy, (5) gender parity an equality in education and (6) quality of education. All 6 of these goals aim to improve literacy development in every population. Along with these goals some more solidified definitions of literacy have been given to help develop literacy “literacy is the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute, using printed and written materials associated with varying contexts”. These skills are easily taught and individually can be expert at various levels.


Global Street Papers

Erin Anderson introduces “street papers” which are magazines that provide self representation to marginalized populations. These papers give opportunities to express opinions and take actions. Though these resources have been getting attention, with them comes challenges and because of this Anderson would like to re-invent these street papers. The current system only allows these papers to reach to a limited amount of people but her aim is to reach a larger audience by changing them into a web based model.

One of the highlighted challenges that I related to was brought up in the techno section, this focuses on the mode in which these papers are being produced in. The paper version itself brings along opportunities for these populations in both opinions and employment. But it also assumes that its population has “formal alphabetic literacy as a fundamental prerequisite for rhetorical action” (Pg. 84). These paper versions also do not allow for different types of expression. With the changing technology comes new strategies of expressing opinions that simple papers do not allow. I can see these reflected in the workshops in jail. Their ability to read and write is not something that is always considered but effects the workshop at a very basic level. Some of the men do not have a high school education which in return would hinder them in some of writing techniques. Since the SpeakOut! Book is printed that limits us in what some of the men are able to produce. We have many rappers present and being  able to produce an audio version of their work would be such a success for them. But since we are still in a paper version we are still limited.

An important challenge that she brings up is that this new form of expression (blog) will not and cannot completely eliminate paper printing forms. These blogs will if anything add to the printed forms and expand on the subjects and topics. Street vendors will continue to have their employment and those who wish to join in on the blog form may do so on a volunteer basis. I found this an important aspect that she brings up because the continue change in technology puts a threat on the more “traditional” forms of communication. It’s neccesary to point out that this change is not a giant leap that will create a revolutionary change but one that intends to aid a already pre-existing process.

The work that SpeakOut! Is doing is giving voice to those populations that are often overlooked when it comes to wanting change.  The men that I work with have a way that they express their feelings and experiences that I would not have thought of using.  I think if anything the production of the book and technique of distribution allows for audiences, that would not even consider inmates or youth, the chance to see how their opinions are still present.

Writing, Violence, and Trauma


Before I delve into the violence and trauma aspect I want to touch on something that really resonated with me while reading Horsman’s article. The line”But, it is the responsibility of literacy workers, funders and others in the field to recognize that all literacy learning must be carried out in recognition of the needs of survivors of trauma. Those needs should be “normalized” as an everyday part of the literacy program.” (Horseman, pg 5). I think this is something that is not focused on enough during any type of program os session. Maybe its coming from my psychology background but touching on an aspect in somebodies life once and then moving on does more harm than most think. Our natural reaction is to shy away from any type of disturbing subject to avoid conflict or uncomfortableness. Constantly going back to that uncomfortable topic may seem harsh and unnecessary but “normalizing” it allows the survivor to feel more comfortable in that setting and that in return allows a more creative atmosphere with no fear of judgement.

Trauma and Canaries

Comparing canaries in mines with survivors never would have occurred to me but when explained the similarities become significantly more relevant. Canaries were brought into mines to warn the workers when there was lethal gas present. These canaries developed a sensitivity to this gas that later on made them a perfect warning system. The same can be said for survivors. Its unfortunate that they are exposed to violence (any type) but it allowed them to have a new found sensitivity to situations. Some of the interviewed said that they could read the intentions of people and could also sense when a dangerous situation was going to occur. When relating this back to jail I can see that some of the men that I work with also have a warning system and have a certain sensitivities to certain topics. During writing they often express some of their deepest thoughts in the through the prompts we provide for them. Some subjects that are brought up are ones that we can see take a toll on some of them or make them uncomfortable. The writings that they share also contain aspects that could make another participant uncomfortable. They each have their own warning system that was developed with their experience and can translate into their writings and reaction during each workshop. As the workshops continue we start to see patterns in each of their writings that slowly explain their sensitivities to certain areas.

“Trust and Boundaries” 

Trust is the first thing that should be developed in any type of therapeutic relationship. This being said trust can be the most difficult thing to develop successfully. Immediately opening up to somebody is a task in itself, “The first thing I learned, in a long list of strategies to survive my childhood, was not to trust anybody. the second thing I learned was not to trust myself” (Horseman, pg 21). Being taught these lessons throughout our lives create a daunting task for the future. In jail we don’t have any one on one time with the men but we do develop a professional relationship with them where they feel they can disclose certain types of information. With this being said I can confidently say that the work and emotions that they share with us only scratch the surface.


My name is Lizzy and I’m the new Community Literacy Center intern for spring semester. I have been volunteering at the Larimer county jail for the past year and have really enjoyed my time. My hope is that my experience as a volunteer will help and guide me in my new role as the intern. I’m looking forward to more fully understanding the mechanics of the jail and the importance of the workshop that each of the men have. Each person that we have had in the workshop tell us that they really look forward to every Wednesday and it helps them express in many different ways depending on the provided prompt. My hope is that the workshop will continue to provide thr same creativity out lite as the previous ones did.