Inside and Out: Queer Histories From Prison and After brings together a group of gay, bi-sexual, trans and queer storytellers who have lived experience with criminal incarceration, as well as queer/allied professors from the USC Writing Program who have been working with these authors through the Prison Education Project and a community writing workshop for former prisoners living at The Francisco Homes.
Out of these collaborations have come several projects including short documentaries and print publications, which not only document the experiences of queer people before, during, and after their time in prison, but also showcase important moments of joy, celebration, knowledge-making, remembrance and love.
This program will showcase highlights from these partnerships, which include two documentary shorts, and new and published readings from writers John Sanchez, Daryl Thompson, Jeremy Sims, and Joanna Nixon. The program will conclude with a panel discussion with these writers and a brief audience Q&A.
This program may not be suitable for all ages.
Ben Pack (he/him): I am a professional TV writer and a professor of writing and critical reasoning at USC where I have taught since 2010. My academic expertise is specifically in community engagement and experiential-learning courses. Since 2015, several professors (Emily Artiano, Stephanie Bower, Zen Dochterman, John Murray) and I have helped lead a weekly creative writing workshop with the residents of the Francisco Homes. I like to always tell people that those 90 minutes of writing are the best part of my week, and that’s no lie.
Rowan Bayne (he/him): I teach writing and critical thinking at the University of Southern California and am Faculty Director of the USC Prison Education Project’s Readers’ Circle, a volunteer-based editing network that pairs students and faculty with incarcerated writers seeking feedback on their creative and non-fiction work. Previously, I was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Chicago, where my research traced histories of queer (and other) identity making in the twentieth century through emergent ideas of ‘the spectrum.’
John Sanchez (he/him): I was born in the dog days of summer of 1981. To parents who weren’t prepared for me, but needed me. And I would need them. I expanded into the arts early on: writing, painting, and later performing on YouTube. I grew up in Southern California and reside near Los Angeles. Forty-two years of age. And crazy as hell. Thank you to everyone who helped me. It was an army. I am Grateful. Visit https://www.youtube.com/@amistilljohn.
Daryl Thompson (he/him): I’m a 61 year old former banker who worked in real estate lending and marine finance. I’m a widower with a 40 year old son. I had a 30 to life sentence and spent 26 years in prison on my only arrest. I was released in August of 2021 and paroled to The Francisco Homes. I wrote a lexicon of prison words while incarcerated, and with the help from my fellow formerly incarcerated writers and the USC professors, I continue to write. Today, I work for an internet entertainment company. I write because I love to write, I write because I have to, I write to keep my thoughts in order and to remember so many things and people that would otherwise be forgotten.
Jeremy Sims (he/him): When I was found suitable for parole I was happy, but then a fear came over me. I was in prison 31 years since I was 17 years old. How was I going to live life on the outside? I am most grateful for The Francisco Homes making that transition possible. I was greeted by others with “Welcome Home!” I felt that I was in good hands and I could do it.
Joanna Nixon (she/her): I am an artist and recipient of 1st prize in the 2022 National Systems-Impacted Writing Contest. Working with the USC Readers’ Circle and ABO Comix, I am currently writing and illustrating a graphic novel. Drawing what I have seen is how I have made sense of the world. When I was arrested my brain was a mud puddle where nothing made sense except the sketches. As I found my way out, I taught others going through the same effort. Completing this graphic novel of my experience is a dream come true, beyond impossible.
This program is organized by The USC Writing Program, The USC Dornsife Prison Education Project, and The Francisco Homes as part of the 2023 Circa: Queer Histories Festival, presented by One Institute. This program is co-presented with the Los Angeles LGBT Center.
The Francisco Homes provides housing and support services for people returning to South Los Angeles after being paroled from long-term incarceration. Founded in 2007, their program is rooted in principles of restorative justice. The homes offer hope as well as holistic support for residents as they reintegrate.
The USC Dornsife Prison Education Project (PEP) Readers Circle creates opportunities for USC and incarcerated students to learn from each other in a rigorous and collaborative learning environment. PEP seeks to reinforce the idea of education as a fundamental human right and to facilitate connections that transcend walls both literal and figurative.
The USC Writing Program offers classes on writing and critical thinking to undergraduates at the university. For over a decade, professors in the program have taught classes focused on community engagement, bringing together students, local residents and non-profit partners.