Jailhouse Poets Find Voice in Writing Course

Aug 24, 2014

Calvin Leavy sings a song he wrote for the Words Without Walls program: "They call it stormy Monday, but Tuesday's just as bad.”
Credit Molly Duerig / PublicSource

Brother Umar wears ketchup-colored jail garb. He’s been locked up for 14 months, but his words earn him snaps as if he’s at a hipster coffee shop.

“For good Abel can’t help but to sacrifice his life to this ‘caine that’s so fatal,” he recites, part preacher, part emcee. Then, conversationally: “That’s Cain and Abel.”

Umar, whose real name is Chris Westbrooks Jr., is in the Allegheny County Jail awaiting trial on charges of attempted murder and aggravated assault in connection with a 2013 shooting in Duquesne.

Today, though, is like a graduation. It’s the final meeting of inmates in the Words Without Walls program, a weekly course taught by Chatham University graduate students.

Read more of this report at the website of our partner PublicSource.