Students Publish Collection of Prison Literature

by Lizzy Hosty | Jul 27, 2020

Stories Unchained CoverWhen senior Lauren Milligan signed up to take a Line Editing class, she did not think it would be that much different from other classes in her English major. That is, until the first day of classes.

“We found out on the first day of classes,” Milligan said. “It was very daunting that we had such a short time period this big of a project.”

The project was a semester-long endeavor to edit, format, and publish a collection of writings from men at the Pendleton Correctional Facility, titled Stories Unchained: Soul Prison Prose through Marian University English Department’s new press, Fraternitas.

Mark Latta, professor of the course and director of Marian’s Writing Center, said that he and a Writing Center lab instructor and creator of the Indiana Prison Writers Workshop (IPWW), Debra Des Vignes, had discussed in the past working on a collaboration.

“IPWW operates in a number of different prisons, of which Pendleton is one,” Latta said. “Debra had a scheduled eight week workshop that would wrap up around midterm, so it seemed like a natural fit to focus on these writers.”

While the students waited for the submissions, they discussed theories of editing and punctuation, along with editing and publishing as a social and cultural action. But once the prison workshop wrapped up, the students of the ENG 322 class got to work. Latta said the students worked in teams to read over the material, transcribe and edit the work, organize the book, write the introductions, supervise the design of the cover, revise, and engage in copy editing.

“Debra brought over the loose-leaf pages for us to read through,” Latta said. “We made copies of the work and returned the originals to her so she could pass them back to the authors.”

And the students did all of this quarantining due to COVID-19.

“We were supposed to meet the inmates,” Milligan said. “We were all really enthusiastic and excited about meeting them, but our visitation was quickly shut down due to the pandemic.”

Despite the unexpected cancellation—Latta said that their trip was cancelled a day before they were supposed to meet the inmates—Milligan expressed relief and pride in finishing the book.

“Just like any project, some days were harder than others but we all made it through,” Milligan said. “Mark Latta, though, has experience in the field and was always there to guide us through the process.”

Prior to working on Stories Unchained, Latta had worked on other book projects, so he was familiar with the process of publishing. However, working online in the face of COVID-19 was a different battle altogether.

“I think it’s important to hand it to the students who made this possible,” Latta said. “Last semester was difficult for many reasons, but the class thought this project was important, and they refused to give up on their commitment to the authors of Stories Unchained.

But now that the class is over and the book is published, Latta is looking forward to the next school year when they can start work on the next publication through Fraternitas Press.

“There is a plan to offer more releases, but we haven’t identified which title will be next,” Latta said. “As you may know, the English Department has two new faculty members joining in the fall, so we’ll need to have a conversation as a department about next releases.”

Latta mentioned that he hopes he can work with authors and organizations in the community to publish works of creative and critical importance, along with other authors they would like to support.

The e-book, which became a #1 Best-seller on Amazon, was published on May 14. Latta mentioned that the printer for the book is backlogged, and once the physical copies arrive, they will also be for sale. All proceeds from the book will be donated to the Indiana Prison Writers Workshop

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