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Words No Bars Can Hold: Literacy Learning in Prison

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  31 ratings  ·  12 reviews
Words No Bars Can Hold provides a rare glimpse into literacy learning under the most dehumanizing conditions. Deborah Appleman chronicles her work teaching college- level classes at a high- security prison for men, most of whom are serving life sentences. Through narrative, poetry, memoir, and fiction, the students in Appleman’s classes attempt to write themselves back int ...more
Hardcover, 160 pages
Published June 18th 2019 by W. W. Norton Company
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Dec 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Appleman is doing the good work and trying to let it teach her as much as she teaches in it. This book makes an effort to cross the academic/public space, to make clear the urgency of prison and education reform, and to show herself as both agentive and receptive.
Karin Foster
Jul 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
I've seen Deborah Appleman present at conferences before and love her work. This book gives me greater appreciation of her, as well as other educators, who work within the prison system. Appleman is careful not to portray literacy as a panacea to violent crime, but it does play an important role. The last chapter discusses the role schools can play in creating systems of support for disengaged youth, but this requires a lot more support for schools than they presently get - counselors, etc. Inte ...more
Sep 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Interesting book written by a friend of mine about her experiences teaching creative writing to "lifers" in the Minnesota prison system. Lots of examples of prisoners work and also a lot of arguments for teaching liberal arts to prison inmates. Tricky business. She makes good arguments for teaching in prisons. I think anyone working or volunteering in the prison system should read it.
Jim Marshall
Oct 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
What place should literacy claim in the lives of prisoners who have little if any chance of release? How can the teaching of critical reading and creative writing enhance the lived lives of those prisoners? What outcomes can be expected? How will we know that we are making a meaningful difference in their lives? Ten years ago Deborah Appleman went to a nearby high security prison for men in order to find answers to these questions, or rather, to fine tune the questions themselves. A Distinguishe ...more
Krista Rolfzen Soukup
Apr 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Your next book club pick. This book should be read, discussed and kept on your shelf. Appleman, a highly accomplished college professor delivers a book that pulls us right into the world of our incarceration system and invokes us to reconsider how we view the criminals and their level of humanity. With consideration to the victims of horrific crimes, we are invited to ponder the general benefit to our society in bringing higher level creative writing instruction to those behind bars for life. It ...more
Lin Salisbury
Dec 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
As Deborah Appleman enters the maximum security prison where she teaches prisoners, she hands off her license, jewelry, shoes -- all the talismans of her identity – and walks through the metal detector; one that she says puts airport security scanners to shame. Her materials are in a clear plastic book bag and her right hand is stamped with invisible ink, which will be scanned with a fluorescent light on her way out to make sure that a cross-dressing imposter is not trying to escape. This is the ...more
Jeff Wilhelm
Sep 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Wow, wow, wow! I highly recommend this book to all. I've recently read THE NEW JIM CROW, AN AMERICAN MARRIAGE, and THE MEN WE REAP. This book finally gave me hope. Deb Appleman is a possibilist – and her work is an exploration of possibility in the most oppressive of circumstances: she works to build literacy in a maximum security prison. She explores the transformative possibilities of literacy – and its limits, of how we can teach for possibility and transformation . . .

Favorite quote: "A per
Feb 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I found this read fantastic. I loved how Deborah Appleman wove theory, story, and humanity (both her own and her students') together. I particularly loved reading the stories of her students and the moments of total humanness within her stories of teaching them.

“Perhaps, in the end, there can be no more worthwhile endeavor than helping to create the conditions under which an individual can reclaim his sense of self and therefore his humanity."
Sep 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a book that can startle and provoke thoughts and beliefs toward the incarcerated. Most of us believe that those convicted of crimes are justly being punished for their deeds. We don’t, for the most part, think of them beyond that. We don’t credit them with individual lives with families and human feelings like the rest of us.
Deborah Appleman presents us with a window into the personal world and experiences of her incarcerated students. Her students share their personal stories through t
Mathew Murphy
Aug 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book offers a long-awaited commentary on education in prisons. I particularly appreciated the opportunity Appleman offered to her incarcerated students to express themselves. As one prisoner wrote, "I wish I had done this learning sooner. I've never had the opportunity to be introspective before, and that has been life-changing." I thank Ms. Appleman for bringing this important issue to our attention and giving her incarcerated students a voice. I hope many people read this book!
Kathleen A.
Sep 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Debra Appleman presents a well-documented, balanced and comprehensive picture of educating one of society’s most challenging populations. Her insights have application across learning environments as well. She skillfully brings her text to life by her inclusion of student work and life stories. A captivating, provocative and enlightening read!
Nov 22, 2019 rated it liked it
Not what I expected at all. I thought it would be more about the 70% of prisoners who struggle to read.
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Deborah Appleman is the Hollis L. Caswell professor of educational studies and director of the Summer Writing Program at Carleton College. Professor Appleman’s recent research has focused on teaching college-level language and literature courses at the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Stillwater for inmates who are interested in pursuing post-secondary education.

Deborah recently edited an anthology

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