Death row inmates create literary project "Spoken Pen" | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Death row inmates create literary project "Spoken Pen"

Posted By on Thu, Jun 8, 2017 at 3:42 PM

  • Image designed by Isabelle Watson Reams (Isabelle Ize)
On May 24, a few weeks before Arkansas planned to kill an unprecedented eight men in just 11 days using a drug protocol that could cause a potentially painful death, "Spoken Pen" released its first installment. A collaborative literary project of four death row inmates in Arkansas — LaTravious Johnson, Kenneth Reams, Justin Anderson and Kenneth Williams — "Spoken Pen" distributes poems and other writings by these death row inmates.

The group described the project, in about "About Us" post, as "a richly detailed and personal glimpse into the minds of four talented writers who have lived through despair, racism, violence, harsh poverty, crime, neglect, abuse, and a generation behind bars."

You can find the full archive of their work on this Facebook page.

"They started their own group, trying to do something on their own, and then reached out to me for help posting," said Matthew Henriksen, who helps run the Facebook page. He met them working with the Prison Story Project. He and a group of others read and distribute the work of the inmates, but the collaborative writing group was entirely created by the prisoners themselves.

"Spoken Pen" co-creator Williams was the last man to be executed by the state of Arkansas on April 27, 2017. There are still open questions concerning Williams' execution. Williams, an ordained minister, was a prolific writer. Including a book "The Unrelenting Burdens of Gang Bangers."

Henriksen said that the "Spoken Pen" writers told him they were also motivated by creating a sense of community and engaging with the public.

The most recent post is a series of answers to the question, "Why are so many black men in prison?" The "Spoken Pen" folks asked this question to fellow inmates and are hoping for the wider community to respond. You can read the full answers here and participate.

Here's the answer of Marcel Williams, who was executed on April 24, 2017.
Because we refuse to diligently do the things that we need to do to find our own greatness, thus we perpetuate our own self-defeating prophecy. He’ll be dead or in prison before he’s 18 years old. We’ve all heard this said at some point in life.

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