graduates of the Open Minds program, December 2018

‘Writing Our Way Out’ students celebrate graduation

The College of Humanities and Sciences congratulates the second graduating class of Writing Our Way Out: A Criminal Justice Diversion Program!

The class includes 10 VCU students and 11 citizens from the City of Richmond facing low-level offenses who were diverted from the courts to the program through a plea agreement. The program is a partnership between the Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office and VCU and is led by David Coogan, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of English.

The primary work of the program takes place through the college course, English 366: Writing and Social Change: Second Chances. VCU students take the course for credit. Diverted participants take the course in lieu of incarceration and must remain incident-free for a year, at which point their charges will be dropped.

The program is based on the book Writing Our Way Out: Memoirs from Jail that Coogan co-authored with 10 men formerly incarcerated at the Richmond City Jail. The book features stories that explore the conditions, traps and turning points on the path to imprisonment, as well as the redemptive power of memoir. One of these authors, Kelvin Belton, serves as the program coach. Belton and Coogan help all participants write their life stories to discover a better way of living.

Writing Our Way Out‘ Class of ’18
Back row: Salinna Lor, Jack Fitzgerald, Lequan Collins, Alexander Long, Tyra Reyez, Savannah Norvell, Alyssa Bernier, Kelvin Belton, Michelle Williams, Jeffrey Council, Jaime Dennis, Lolita Grant, David Coogan, Joshua Fitzgerald

Front row: Leena Penumalee, Carly Hogan, Chloe Grant, Bethany Johnson, Samantha Jaffe, Kiara Brandon, Lamesha Johnson, Robert Thornhill