Writers in Residence was first started as a student-run organization by Michalena Mezzopera, Anthony Shopolik, Rachel Schratz, Dr. Philip Metres, and Zachary Thomas in 2016 at John Carroll University. They wanted to share their love for reading and writing with youth that were incarcerated in Cleveland, Ohio.
They were committed and driven “to reduce the rate of recidivism within the juvenile justice system by facilitating an open forum for artistic self-expression and constructive self-reflection while also fostering genuine, long-lasting relationships with the residents,” which eveolved into Writers in Residence’s current mission and vision.
So during the fall and spring semesters for 12-weeks, the founding leadership team and student volunteers facilitated creative writing workshops for male and female residents at the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Detention Center and Ohio’s Department of Youth Services – Cuyahoga Hills Juvenile Correctional Facility. The creative writing workshops run weekly for 90 minutes. Then, the JCU WIR Cohort published the residents’ creative writing in a chapbook that was shared with the residents, the juvenile detention centers, the University, and the greater Cleveland community. The chapbooks are a form of advocacy that frees the residents’ voices and reminds us that individuals that are incarcerated also have dignity that deserves to be recognized.
Currently, Writers in Residence remains active under the leadership of Zachary Thomas, who received a John Carroll University/Cleveland Foundation’s Anisfield-Wolf Grant Fellowship in 2018 to develop and expand the original JCU WIR Cohort into a non-profit organization managing cohorts across Ohio. He will also conduct a research study that determines the effects of a creative writing workshop on incarcerated youth’s literacy levels and recidivism rates.
“My expectations are what you gave me:
a new way to escape my problems.”– A Resident at Cuyahoga Hills Juvenile Correction Facility