讓心中的高牆倒下──監獄寫作班

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1998 / 10月

文‧張瓊方 圖‧張良綱



逃避不了的希望

藏在灰燼中悄悄等待

當一陣春風吹來

令人蠢蠢欲動的火花蹦跳出來

沒有人知道這一點希望能持續多久

會將這些囚徒推向何方

在高牆圈禁之下

模模糊糊地燃燒

掙扎地找尋自己爾後生存的空間

──掙扎(朝興)

由澎湖監獄「鼎灣寫作班」作品集結成書的《來自邊緣的故事》,在七月出版上市後,隨即榮登金石堂怳j暢銷書排行榜。書籍暢銷,人們對這個寫作班也充滿好奇,甚至有人出人意料地詢問:「如何參加鼎灣寫作班?」

等你一起看月亮

「……不想這一耽擱,足足怞~過去了,我不但欠朋友一個看月亮的夜晚,那夜起,我也沒有再看過月亮。最近渴望看到月亮的心情益加強烈,一些關於月亮的記憶時常閃現腦海……」

〈等你一起看月亮〉是沈魚自認最滿意的作品。這篇懷念親友的雜文,在自由時報與統一企業合辦的「喜悅新世界」徵文比賽中拿到第三名,也為他賺進了一萬元獎金。

第三度入獄的沈魚已年屆不惑,過去從無寫作經驗的他,參加寫作班以後,勤於筆耕。

下午五點到晚上九點半,是受刑人的「自由時間」,在斗大的牢房裡,同房的受刑人或坐、或臥、或下棋、或聽音樂、或發呆……,沈魚則每天拿棋盤墊在腿上寫。「三個月來沒有間斷,手都磨出繭來了,」他張開手笑說。

今年底,沈魚就可以出獄回家了,他計畫出獄後以養魚為業,閒暇時將繼續寫作。

*  *  *

三怚X頭的普傻多半寫心情,「寫完以後心情比較好,」他說。

小學畢業的普傻,從沒想過有一天自己能提筆寫作。參加寫作班之後,他發現了一個自由、寬廣、又充滿樂趣的新天地。「在寫作的時候,我做到了以前從來做不到的──靜心。」

此外,普傻的想法也改變了,「過去我腦海裡想的都是要怎麼變更壞,」普傻說,他常研究社會新聞,模擬思考怎樣才不會被抓,如今,他對那些東西已提不起興趣了,普傻在〈三抪釭熒s生兒〉文中,說自己藉由寫作,已獲得重生。

*  *  *

三怳C歲的大頭仔,因運輸毒品被判處無期徒刑。入獄三年多,心裡最放不下的是他那年僅四歲、只見過一次面的兒子。「我這輩子所做最大的錯事,就是把兒子的童年揮霍掉了,」大頭仔說著說著就紅了眼眶。

「很多事情以前我不敢去想,」大頭仔說,當他看書、下筆寫作時,不知不覺就會把感情融入,想起過去不敢想、不去想的事。

一篇描述母親帶著兒子來澎湖探監的文章,真情流露的寫道:「看著那一老一小離去時的背影,我不禁流下了眼淚……」讀來令人鼻酸。

寫作也讓他回頭作夢,「現在雖然身繫囹圄,我常讓我的思緒越過高牆,跨過黑水溝,回到家鄉的海邊,去做那個漁人的夢……」

一年多來,寫作對他而言已是一種責任,雖然每天寫得腰酸背痛,「但不寫會覺得愧對歐老師!」他說。

他口中的「歐老師」,是位年近四怐漱k記者──民生報的歐銀釧。

天人菊的邀請

鼎灣寫作班的成員都是澎湖監獄的受刑人,澎湖監獄是所謂的「專業監」,裡面收容的一千五百名受刑人,全是煙毒累犯。

受刑人在獄中,除了上工場做工外,獄方還會為他們安排一些教化課程。近年台灣監獄的教化課程更為活潑多樣,除了宗教課程外,獄方還提供靜坐、書法、陶藝、讀書會……等等,讓受刑人自由選擇。不過,像澎湖監獄為受刑人開寫作班倒是史無前例的創舉。

「當初沒有想到會出書,也沒想到會聲名大噪,」澎湖監獄教化科長陳明傑指出,開寫作班的目的原本只是想在獄中造成讀書風氣。

民國八怳誚~四月,歐銀釧到澎湖縣立文化中心演講,澎湖監獄典獄長廖德富與教化科長陳明傑,手捧一束人造天人菊到場,會後他們極力邀請歐銀釧到監獄開寫作班。

由於沒有經費,獄方無法提供酬勞,甚至往來的機票也要歐銀釧自付,但在澎湖出生長大的歐銀釧,被廖德富和陳明傑的熱忱感動,爽快點頭答應。她甚至還把報導文學作家張典婉、詩人沈花末、小說家呂則之等諸位好友拖下水,加入義工行列。

老家也在澎湖的呂則之,在同鄉兼好友的大力邀請下,自然義不容辭。張典婉和沈花末認為,為受刑人上課是一種「盡社會責任的方式」,也樂意奉獻。

寫作班兩位主要授課老師──歐銀釧和張典婉,平均兩週輪流飛往澎湖監獄為受刑人上課,呂則之和沈花末則擔任「紙上老師」,負責批改學生的作品。

高牆裡的陽光

自願報名參加鼎灣寫作班的,大約有二百名學生,配合受刑人的「放風」(出囚房稱放風,回囚房稱收風)時間,上課時間多安排在早上九點到怳@點,或下午二點到四點。

偶爾歐銀釧會邀請不同領域、類型的作家,為受刑人上課。歐銀釧指出,陳若曦、路寒袖、范俊逸、鄭耀宗、林佩芬……等作家,都曾義務贊助,為受刑人講述小說、歌詞、台語詩、編劇等等文學創作技巧,他們的酬勞,照例是一盒澎湖鹹餅。

今年九月初,澎湖的陽光依然炙熱難耐,作家黃春明也應邀來到澎湖監獄,為鼎灣寫作班學生演講。

擅長說故事的黃春明,首先講述自己年輕時打架、「流學」全島的故事,接著又說了美國死刑犯──查士曼的故事,「被判處抴X個死刑、六百多年徒刑的查士曼比陳進興還壞好幾倍,案子調查了結前,他在獄中過了怳G年的牢獄生活,靠自修從原本不識字,到用自己囚犯的編號寫了一本自傳,最後整個人完全改變……」黃春明唱作俱佳,學生們也聽得興味盎然。

「自由可貴湯」

曾在綠島坐牢九年的作家柏楊,在〈囚房〉一詩中有如下的描述:「重鎖密封日夜長,朦朧四季對燈光,天低降火類爐灶,板浮積水似蒸湯,起居坐臥皆委地,呻吟宛轉都骨殭,臭溢馬桶堆屎尿,擁擠並肩揮汗漿,身如殘屍爬黃蟻,人同蛆肉聚蟑螂……」

在這樣的牢房中生活,難怪柏楊要感嘆:「天上千年如一日,獄中一日似千年。」

受刑人口中的「澎湖鼎灣大飯店」(指澎湖監獄),環境當然早已不像當年柏楊所關的綠島監獄那麼不堪,但兩坪大的囚房住了三個人仍顯得有些侷促。不過,相對於俗世的紛擾,獄中與世隔絕,卻也是很好的寫作環境。

受刑人行動自由雖受限,思想、創意卻自由馳騁。作品裡經常可見出人意料的奇想。

鼎灣寫作班一位受刑人,在歐銀釧講述食物與創作的關係後,自創一道監獄食譜,名為〈自由可貴湯〉,材料是:耐心三分、恆心五分,加怳G分決心,熬三年,煮好後還得「痛苦加眼淚熱熱的喝」。

還有位受刑人寫了一篇〈水的脫逃事件〉,透過角色轉換,表達自己想要脫逃的意念。

從小被父親遺棄的亞川,在〈阿清的願望〉一文裡,滿懷企盼的在紙條上寫著:「我想要爸爸」,期盼聖誕老公公能將他最想要的聖誕禮物塞進大大的襪子裡。

不只是懺悔

其實,寫作班的學生並不是一開始就擅長寫作。歐銀釧指出,一開始學生的作品內容大多環繞著對自己過去的行為悔恨、羞愧等等,不容易走出去。

「我鼓勵他們回到童年,純真的去思考,」歐銀釧說,經過誘導、鼓勵,懺悔的文章漸漸少了,越來越多童年往事或與自己生活有關的作品。

「他們沒有外務干擾,用整個生命在寫,」澎湖監獄教化科長陳明傑認為,只要給受刑人一點點喘息創作的空間,他們就會緊緊的抓住。

呂則之也指出,剛開始學生的文字並不好,但他收到第三次稿件時,發現學生突然進步很快,讓他非常振奮。「他們這麼用心,我也不敢輕忽,」呂則之表示,閱讀受刑人的文章,他每每不自覺地跌入文章的情境中。

「他們的經歷很特別,再加上受到環境限制,更專注於文字,寫出來的東西自有其特色,」呂則之說,像最近看了一篇名為〈圖畫〉的作品,描寫晚上睡不著,觀察牢房中天花板上的電風扇、壁虎、蚊子的情形,題材簡單,卻是個很奇妙的想像世界,令人印象深刻。

另一位紙上老師沈花末,也給予監獄學生很高的評價。在她看來,監獄寫作班雖然多數教育程度不高,但是水準不輸「台北市全民寫作」、「台灣省人間有愛」等徵文比賽的投稿作品。

張典婉指出,自己曾在文藝營、青少年寫作班、媽媽寫作班、原住民編採班等都上過課,但得自於監獄寫作班學生的回饋最多。

「監獄寫作班對我而言是個新的嘗試,」她說,這一年多來她讀到很多故事,有關海洋的、老兵的、茶室的、還有殺豬的,這些作品的樣性、題材與一般人的經歷大不相同。

危險的決定

自嘲為「坐牢專家」的柏楊認為,在監獄開寫作班其實是一項「危險」的決定,但正因如此,才顯得主事者有膽識,勇於突破。

柏楊解釋,坐牢的目的在與社會隔絕,環境越單純越不容易出「狀況」,對管理者自然就越「省事」。監獄裡開寫作班,人來人往,受刑人情緒難免受到影響,起伏不定,廖德富甘冒不諱,請來老師上互動頻繁的「寫作課」,的確是一大創舉。

另一方面,歐銀釧、張典婉等老師也怳擢埸V,課前常一再演練,對主題、教材的選擇、討論的過程都先做過評估,才進入教室,例如前一陣子大紅的《失樂園》,受刑人也很感興趣,老師們便因勢就導,探討情慾方面的題材與寫作方式,大家反而學到很多。

教化科長陳明傑指出,從受刑人家屬的書信反應,可以看出寫作班的學生文字表達能力的進步。同時,他們的情緒找到一個出路,眼界、心胸寬了,比較不會與人起爭執。

「反省是人成長最大的力量,」作家黃春明認為,藉由寫作喚起失落的童心,是最好不過的事。

看了一年多的稿子,沈花末從中體會出,受刑人覺得最愧對的是母親,最難忘的也是母愛的溫暖,因而最多懷念母親的作品,但對妻子、女友的離去卻往往不願多談,這方面深層的情緒也難以宣洩。

「我覺得監獄輔導應注意這一點,」沈花末建議,將來寫作班在課程設計上,應加入情緒管理和兩性關係的課程。

文學的力量

接觸文學、寫作,鼎灣寫作班的受刑人還延伸出不同的興趣,有人精研中國結,有人則投入布袋戲的演出,獄中生活似乎不再那麼苦悶難熬了。

《來自邊緣的故事》的出版,對鼎灣寫作班學生而言更是很大的鼓舞。「當作品印成印刷品時,多爽啊!」大頭仔說,他不知寫了多少封信告訴親朋好友,恨不得讓全世界的人都知道。

寫作雖然讓部份受刑人找回信心,但在與受刑人接觸中,老師也可以感覺到他們內心更深層的問題。

每隔一段時間,歐銀釧會為學生做一次「文學門診」,個別指導學生寫作上的問題,學生有問題也可以申請掛號。但門診的內容往往不僅僅是寫作,人生的問題、情緒的問題,學生也樂於向老師傾訴。

「我常告訴他們,我是個從火裡來的人,來看他們這些在火裡的人,」歐銀釧表示,自己扮演的不是什麼「心靈導師」的角色,而是以朋友自居,「一個在現實社會中艱苦生活、與他們同樣有缺點的朋友。」

因此,這位受刑人口中的歐老師,在學生面前從不講仁義道德,「透過文字、寫作的潛移默化,自我發現、自我反省更有用,」她說。

對歐銀釧個人而言,進入監獄有如開啟閱讀生命的窗口,「經由這個寫作班,我發現人生的痛在那裡,這對我而言是個很大的撞擊,」歐銀釧指出,自己的寫作方向、人生觀也因而有所轉變,對於世事也看得越來越平淡了。

有一次上課,一位學生說,被關久了,身體、四肢各方面的反應都變遲鈍了,而其中唯一的好處是,臉上的微笑也消失的特別慢。這名學生的話讓歐銀釧印象深刻,也因而為文寫了一篇:〈緩慢消失的微笑〉。

只要播種就有希望

寫作班原本似「潛水艇」在海中默默航行,沒想到廣受好評。

七月,原澎湖鼎灣監獄典獄長廖德富調任桃園監獄,歐銀釧等人也應邀到桃監開設第二個監獄寫作班。雖然地點不在澎湖,但為象徵一本初衷、再續前緣,老師們將桃園監獄寫作班取名為「天人菊寫作班」。

鼎灣寫作班備受各界肯定,媒體採訪邀約不斷,許多監獄也慕名邀請歐銀釧等人去開寫作班,但歐銀釧多數都予以婉拒。他們只希望寫作班能儘速回到往日的「潛水艇」狀態,繼續默默從事文學播種工作。

p.122

普傻看著自己放在囚房走廊窗檯上的筆記,若有所思。對明年可能獲得假釋出獄的他來說,寫作班是希望和信心的來源。

p.124

歐銀釧邀請寫作風格不同的作家到監獄為寫作班上課。九月初,鄉土作家黃春明也專程到澎湖為鼎灣寫作班上了兩天課。

p.125

編劇、旁白、配樂、演出,都由受刑人通力合作完成,從無到有的「澎鼎布袋戲團」是寫作班發展出來的副產品。

p.126

囚房裡沒有桌椅,大頭仔只能用棋盤墊在腿上寫字,幾個小時寫下來,全身酸痛,但精神愉快。

p.127

環境雖然克難,受刑人依然能寫出一手工整的好字,三個月來,沈魚已經寫了厚厚一疊稿紙。

p.128

鼎灣寫作班的四位老師,左起張典婉、呂則之、歐銀釧、沈花末,他們平日各自忙於工作與家庭,少有機會齊聚一堂。

p.129

一籃塑膠天人菊,促成了鼎灣寫作班,為苦悶的監獄帶進一線陽光。

p.130

0593、1553、0721,獄中受刑人只有編號沒有名字,參加寫作班後,他們為自己取了筆名,左起大頭仔、沈魚、普傻。

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EN

Bringing Down the Walls-- A Writing Class in Prison

Chang Chiung-fang /photos courtesy of Vincent Chang /tr. by Scott Williams


An inescapable hope

Waiting quietly, hidden in the ashes.

When the spring wind rises,

One anticipates tongues of flame will begin to dance and flicker.

No one knows how long this hope can be sustained,

Nor in what direction it will drive these inmates,

Held within these high walls,

Burning indistinctly,

Struggling to find themselves and a space in which to live.

-"Struggle" (Chao Hsing)

The works of the Penghu Prison's Tingwan Writing Class have been collected in the volume Stories from the Edge. Published in July, the book currently ranks among Kingstone Books' 10 best-sellers, indicating that there is a high level of curiosity among the public. In some cases this curiosity is so strong that readers have even asked, "How can I join the Tingwan Writing Class?"

Waiting to view the moon with you

". . . I wasn't expecting this kind of delay. A full 10 years have passed, and still I owe my friend an evening spent viewing the moon. But I haven't seen the moon since that night. Lately, my desire to see it is growing stronger. Memories of it often flit through my mind. . . ."

Of his own work, Shen Yu finds "Waiting to View the Moon with You" the most satisfying. The essay, which recalls friends and family members, won third prize in the Joyous World Writing Contest jointly sponsored by The Liberty Times and President Enterprises. It also earned him NT$10,000 in prize money.

Shen, who is in prison for the third time, is already 40 years old. Though he never used to write, since joining the class he has become a devoted inkslinger.

From 5:00-9:30 in the evening is "free time" for the inmates. In their tiny cells, some roommates might sit or lay down, while others play chess, listen to music or daydream. Shen Yu, however, spends every evening writing, a chess board on his legs serving as his desk. "I haven't taken a day off in three months. My hands are getting calluses." He smiles, showing his hands.

Shen will be released from prison at the end of this year. Once out, he plans to raise fish for a living, and says he will continue to write in his free time.

* * *

Pu Sha, in his early thirties, writes mostly of his feelings. He says, "My mood is better after I've written."

Pu, whose formal education ended with primary school, never thought that he would one day pick up a pen and begin writing, but after joining the prison's writing class, he discovered an exciting new realm of freedom and open spaces. "When I'm writing, I achieve something I never had before-peace of mind."

Pu's attitude towards life has changed, too. "In the past, all I thought about was how to be a better criminal." He says that he used to scan the news for ways to avoid being caught. Lately, however, he is no longer interested in that kind of thing. In his essay "A 30-year-old Newborn," he says that he has been reborn through writing.

* * *

The 37-year-old "Big Head" was sentenced to life in prison for transporting narcotics. After more than three years on the inside, his greatest regret is that he has seen his son, who was only four years old when Big Head was incarcerated, only once. "The biggest mistake I've made in this life was the wasting of my son's childhood years," he says, his eyes rimmed with red.

Big Head says, "There were many things I used to not like to think about." But in reading and writing, one unconsciously lets one's feelings have expression and, in Big Head's case, begins thinking about those things he used to avoid thinking about.

In an essay about a mother bringing a son to the Penghu Prison to visit, his real feelings are revealed: "Looking at the backs of the mother and son as they left, I couldn't help but shed a tear. . . ." The reader, too, feels a lump in her throat.

Writing also allows him to dream about the past. "Though my body is imprisoned, I often let my spirit roam over these high walls and across the black-water moat to the seaside of my hometown. I dream of being a fisherman. . . ."

For more than a year, writing has been something he has taken as a kind of responsibility. Though he writes everyday until his back aches, "I feel like if I don't write, I've wronged Teacher Ou."

The "Teacher Ou" he refers to is the 40-ish Ou Yin-chuan, a female reporter with the Min Sheng Daily.

An "Indian Blanket" invitation

The students in the Tingwan Writing Class are all inmates at the Penghu Prison, a so-called "professional prison" which houses some 1500 criminals, all repeat offenders on drug charges.

In addition to putting inmates to work in the prison factory, the prison also arranges classes for them. Over the last few years, the classes offered by Taiwan's prisons have become more lively and varied. In addition to classes on religion, there are classes in meditation, calligraphy, pottery and reading. Inmates are allowed to freely chose from among these. Nonetheless, the writing class at Penghu Prison is a first.

"At the beginning, I had no idea we'd publish a book, nor that when we did, it would become so famous," says Chen Ming-chieh, head of Penghu Prison's education program. In fact, Chen says that the original intent of starting a writing class was simply to stir up interest in reading.

In April of 1997, Ou Yin-chuan came to the Penghu County Culture Center to present a lecture. Liao Te-fu, warden of the Penghu Prison, and Chen Ming-chieh attended with a bouquet of Indian Blanket in hand. After the lecture, they earnestly invited Ou to teach a writing class at the prison.

Because there are no funds for the class, the prison isn't able to offer Ou any compensation for her teaching. In fact, she must even pay for her plane tickets to Penghu herself. But Ou was born and raised in Penghu and was moved by Liao and Chen's appeal. She quickly agreed to their proposal. Moreover, she also persuaded several friends to volunteer with her including the poet Shen Hua-mo, novelist Lu Tse-chih and Chang Tien-wan, a writer on literature.

Naturally, when Lu Tse-chih, who's family is from Penghu, heard the appeal of his hometown friend, he couldn't refuse. Chang Tien-wan and Shen Hua-mo, on the other hand, viewed teaching the inmates as a way of fulfilling their own social responsibilities, and have happily contributed their time.

The two principal teachers of the class, Ou and Chang, take turns flying to Penghu an average of once every two week to give lectures. Lu and Shen, on the other hand, are "paper teachers," correcting and critiquing the students' works.

Sunlight inside the walls

About 200 students signed up for the Tingwan Writing Class of their own accord. To coordinate with inmates' "airing out" time (when inmates are let out of their cells, it is known as "airing out"; when they are put back in, it is known as "bottling up"), most of the writing classes are held from 9-11 in the morning and from 2-4 in the afternoon.

Ou sometimes invites writers from different fields or of different types to teach the class. She says that writers including Chen Juo-hsi, Lu Han-hsiu, Fan Chun-yi, Cheng Yao-tsung and Lin Pei-fen have all volunteered their time to lecture the class on writing techniques for the novel, song lyrics, Taiwanese poetry and screenplays. Following on the example of Ou, they are compensated for their time with a box of Penghu-style xianbing, savory meat-filled pastries.

At the beginning of September, Penghu's sun is still almost unbearably fierce. In spite of its harsh glare, writer Huang Chun-ming came to the prison to give a lecture to the Tingwan Writing Class.

"Precious Freedom Soup"

Huang is a noted storyteller. In his lecture, he speaks first of his childhood-the fights and his "study tour" of Taiwan. Then he turns his narrative to an American murderer. "This man was convicted of more than 10 murders and sentenced to more than 600 years in prison. He was much worse than Chen Ching-hsing. By the time his case was wrapped up, he had already spent 12 years in prison. During that time, he taught himself to read and eventually wrote an autobiography. He became a completely different person. . . ." Huang tells his story well, and the students listen with rapt attention.

The writer Bo Yang was also once imprisoned for political reasons, spending nine years on Green Island. He describes his experience in a poem entitled "Jail Cell": "Sealed in with heavy locks, the days and nights are long/ The four seasons are indistinct by lamplight/ The sky hangs low, the flame turned down, it feels like a woodstove/ Planks float atop the water, steamed like soup/ All day spent sitting or lying on the floor/ The wailing, moaning reverberates around stiff bodies/ The stinking liquid in the toilet-accumulated shit and urine/ Crowded, shoulders bumping and sweating/ Bodies like corpses, the ants crawling upon them/ People like rotten meat covered in roaches. . . ."

Living this kind of prison life, it's no wonder that Bo Yang said feelingly, "In Heaven, 1000 years passes like one day. In prison, one day passes like 1000 years."

Of course, things are much better at the Penghu Prison, known to inmates as the Penghu Tingwan Hotel, than they were on Green Island at the time of Bo Yang's imprisonment. But cells are still quite cramped with three inmates sharing a seven-square-meter cell. On the bright side, those in jail are isolated from the concerns of the outside world, which makes prison an excellent environment for writing.

Although inmates cannot roam about freely, their minds are free to go galloping on the four winds. Thus, in their written works one often encounters strange and unexpected ideas.

Once, after a lecture by Ou on the relationship of food to creativity, one student in the Tingwan Writing Class created a prison recipe. Called "Precious Freedom Soup," it called for three parts patience, five parts perseverance and 12 parts decisiveness. After stewing for three years, it is to be drunk while still hot, garnished with agony and tears.

Another inmate produced a work entitled "The Water's Escape." Casting himself as water, the story expresses the writer's own desire to escape.

In his story "Ah-ching's Wish," Ya-chuan, who was abandoned by his father as a child, tells of a boy who expectantly writes "I want a father" on a strip of paper. He hopes that Santa Claus can stuff this gift, one which he desires above all others, into his stocking for Christmas.

Not simply repentance

Naturally, the students were not great writers at the outset. Ou says that in the beginning, most of the content of their work was enveloped in their feelings of remorse and regret over their past behavior. It was difficult for them to break out of this.

"I encouraged them to return to their childhoods, to look at those days with naivet*," says Ou. She explains that with guidance and encouragement, the number of repentant works lessened, replaced by works relating experiences from their childhood and adult lives.

"They don't have other work to distract them, and can therefore put all of their vital force into their writing." Chen Ming-chieh, the Penghu Prison's education director, feels that inmates will grasp at any opportunity which allows them to breathe and create.

Lu Chih-tse says that in the beginning, the students really didn't write very well. However, by the time he got their third set of works to critique, he noted that they had already begun to improve. This was heartening. "They were dedicating themselves to their writing, so I couldn't treat it lightly." Lu says that when reading the works of inmates, he can't help but lose himself within each and every one.

"Their experiences are pretty unique. Moreover, the limitations placed upon them by their environment push them to focus still more intently on their writing. The work they produce naturally has a special character of its own." Lu says that he recently read a work called "Pictures" which describes a sleepless night. An inmate observes the fan, the geckos and the mosquitoes on the ceiling of his cell. The theme is simple, yet it creates a rare world of the imagination which leaves a deep impression on the reader.

The other "paper teacher," Shen Hua-mo, also rates her imprisoned students highly. Although most of them are not highly educated, the quality of their work is on a par with that of the works submitted to literary contests such as the Taipei City Writing Contest and the Taiwan Province's Love in the World contest.

Chang Tien-wan says that she has taught writing classes for youths, mothers and aborigines, and at literary retreats, but that it has been these writing classes for prisoners that have been the most rewarding to her.

"With the prison writing classes, I was taking a stab at something new," says Chang. The stories she has read this past year have involved the sea, old soldiers, tearooms and slaughtering pigs. She says that their style and their themes are not part of people's everyday experiences.

A dangerous decision

Bo Yang, who jokingly refers to himself as a "professional jailbird," feels that it was a dangerous decision to start a prison writing class. But in doing so, the sponsors have shown their wisdom and their courage.

He explains that the purpose of prison is to keep inmates separate from society. The "purer" the prison environment, the less likely there is to be trouble, which means easier management. These prison writing classes have brought people in and out of the jail, providing the convicts with contact with the outside world. He feels that this will affect their moods, making them more emotionally unstable. Liao Te-fu took a risk in inviting these teachers to hold writing classes in the prison. His decision was a first.

Ou and the other teachers are extremely conscientious about the class, carefully considering their topics, materials and the discussion process before ever stepping into the classroom. For example, their students expressed an interest in the recently popular Japanese novel and film Paradise Lost. The teachers decided to present the material, discussing sexual themes and writing techniques. Everyone learned a great deal.

Fortunately, the negative effects that Bo Yang worries about have not yet been seen at the Penghu Prison. Chen Ming-chieh says, in fact, that judging from comments in letters written by the inmates' families, the ability of the inmates to express themselves in writing has improved. At the same time, their emotions have found an outlet, they have broadened their worldview and expanded their understanding. As a result, they are less inclined to quarrel with others.

"Reflecting on your mistakes is a great impetus to growing up," says Huang Chun-ming. He feels that the aid that the writing class has given the inmates in recovering their lost childhoods has been its greatest contribution.

After reading more than a year's worth of works, Shen Hua-mo has come to the conclusion that it is their mothers whom the inmates feel they have most wronged, and it is the warmth of motherly love which they find it most difficult to forget. Therefore, most of their works are reminiscences about their mothers. They are not, however, much willing to discuss their former wives and girlfriends. Their deep feelings on these latter are difficult to reveal.

"I think that prison counseling should address this point," says Shen. She recommends that future writing classes should include segments on control of emotions and relations between the sexes.

The power of literature

Having encountered literature and taken up writing, the interests of the inmates in the Tingwan Writing Class are growing. One has started studying Chinese macram*. Another has thrown himself into the performance of Taiwanese puppet opera. Their life in prison is becoming more bearable.

For the students in the class, the publication of Stories from the Edge has provided even greater encouragement. "When our works were printed, it was great!" says Big Head. He comments that he doesn't know how many letters he wrote to family and friends telling them about it. He wished for the whole world to know.

Although writing has allowed some inmates to regain their confidence, from her interactions with them, their teacher can nonetheless feel that they still are experiencing problems on a deeper level.

Ou thus periodically holds a "literature clinic" for her students. In it she addresses problems individual students are having in their writing. Students with problems can also apply to "see the doctor." But typically, the content of these visits goes beyond merely addressing difficulties with writing. Students happily pour out their hearts to Ou, asking about problems in their lives and emotional issues.

"I often tell them, I came out of the fire and I've come to visit them-these folks who are still in the fire," says Ou. She explains that she doesn't play the role of psychological counselor, but that of a friend, "a friend who is struggling with life in real society, and who, like them, has faults."

For this reason, "Teacher Ou" has never spoken of virtue and morality in front of her students. "The influence of literature and writing is wrought slowly. But the self-discovery and self-reflection that it brings is more useful," she says.

For Ou herself, entering the prison to teach has opened a new window on life. "This writing class has made me aware of where the pain in life lies. This has struck me like a blow." She says that the direction of her writing and her view of life have also changed as a result. She has been more inclined to take untoward events in stride.

A student once said in class that being in prison for a long time, one's whole body becomes sluggish and unresponsive. The only good thing about it is that smiles disappear particularly slowly. This statement impressed Ou deeply and led her to write "The Smile Which Faded Slowly."

If you sow, there is hope

The writing class was like a submarine chugging quietly along beneath the surface of the sea. No one expected its work to receive such positive reviews.

In July, Liao Te-fu, originally the warden of the Penghu Prison, was transferred, becoming warden of Taoyuan Prison. Since the move, he has invited Ou and her friends to set up a second writing class, this one for the inmates in Taoyuan. Although the new class is not in Penghu, in memory of the spirit of the original invitation, the teachers have decided to call the Taoyuan class the Indian Blanket Writing Class.

The Tingwan Writing Class has received wide acclaim. Since the publication of its book, its members have been interviewed by the media almost without rest. Moreover, a number of other prisons have now requested that Ou establish writing classes for their inmates, too. Ou, however, has politely refused. They hope that the writing class can become like a submarine once again, chugging along unseen as it spreads the seeds of literature.

p.122

Pu Sha looks at a note he has placed on the window between his cell and the corridor. He seems to have something on his mind. For Pu, who next year may be released on parole, writing is a source of hope and confidence.

p.124

Ou Yin-chuan invited writers of different types to come to the prison and present lectures to its writing class. In September, the "rural school" writer Huang Chun-ming traveled to Penghu to give two days of classes.

p.125

The Tingwan Puppet Opera Club has grown out of the writing class. The script, the narration, the music and the performance are all handled by prisoners working together.

p.126

There are no desks or tables in the cells, so Big Head's only option is to write on a chessboard he sets on his legs. After a few hours of this, his whole body aches, but he's happy.

p.127

In spite of the difficulties of their environment, the prisoners write in a neat and regular hand. Over the course of three months, Shen Yu has produced a thick stack of work.

p.128

The four teachers of the Tingwan Writing Class, from left to right: Chang Tien-wan, Lu Tse-chih, Ou Yin-chuan and Shen Hua Mo. Usually busy with their work and their families, they rarely have the chance to all get together.

p.129

The Tingwan Writing Class, which "grew" out of a basket of plastic Indian blanket flowers, has brought a ray of sunshine into the dank interior of the prison.

p.130

0593, 1553, 0721. . . Prisoners have no names, only numbers. After joining the writing class, they chose noms de plume for themselves. From left to right: Big Head, Shen Yu and Pu Sha.

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