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Sara Blair Matthews: Teaching creative writing beyond bars

Ben Kaufman


Have you ever wondered what being inside a prison is like? Everyone sees prisons in television shows and movies, but no one can truly understand the complexities of the system without stepping inside to see for themselves.

Most people would be too intimidated or scared to venture near a prison, but Sara Blair Matthews ’15 frequently volunteers at the State Correctional Institution (SCI) at Muncy, an all women prison, to teach creative writing to inmates.

SCI Muncy is one of two all-women penitentiaries in Pennsylvania. What started as a training school for impoverished women in the 1920s turned into a correctional institute in 1953. SCI Muncy is in charge of programs like Female Diagnostic and Classification Center, Capital Case Inmates, and Close Security.

Matthews has been involved with volunteering and working at the prison since taking her first-year Law and Society sociology class. Since then, she has been trying to find ways to get involved with helping out at not only this prison, but also one near her home in Houston. This past summer, she wrote articles for a nationwide prison magazine. This required her to speak with prisoners about their experiences so she could share them with the public.

Matthews became re-involved with Muncy this year by talking to Troy Edwards, the Muncy’s Reentry Service Coordinator. Matthews said that he was enthusiastic to have her volunteer, as they are always looking for help, especially in teaching unconventional subjects to the inmates. Edwards said he is excited about University students getting involved and volunteering at Muncy.

“Community involvement in the incarceration process is a must,” Edwards said. “Having the Bucknell students involved at Muncy provides our population the opportunity to communicate and collaborate with outside entities, and develop positive relationships … oftentimes, their first positive relationship.”

Edwards told Matthews that she could teach whatever she wished, and instructed her to choose something she was passionate about. Edwards encouraged her to let her passion show through her teaching.

“I knew that I would enjoy teaching creative writing,” Matthews said. “I have always been interested in the subject, especially in regards to poetry. I also thought it would be worthwhile for the inside students, and I felt it would be a good outlet for them to express themselves.”

When Matthews brought the idea to the school, she got a faculty member to advise her on the project, which also enabled her to count the project as course credit. She turned to Professor of English Ghislaine McDayter, who excitedly agreed to help her out.

“She needed to find an adviser to help her and I was very happy to step into the role since I thought the project was so innovative and important,” McDayter said.

Matthews looked forward to teaching because she knew her class would give the inmates a unique experience.

“Specialized classes like these are rare,” Matthews said. “They mainly do life skill classes, like GED classes in prisons, so this is a good way for the prisoners to engage in something different.”

Matthews’ creative writing class started at Muncy in September. Her classes take place once a week and last an hour and a half. To open class, Matthews begins by having a discussion with her students about the past week, including discussing the previously assigned homework. She then gives them writing prompts for them to explore and discuss.

“My classes are discussion-based,” Matthews said. “I act as more of a proctor than a teacher.”

Matthews said her class started with 17 students, and has dwindled slightly to 10 consistent students each week. Of the returning students, Matthews said they are very supportive of one another.

“Everyone is happy for each other and encouraging of each other’s work,” Matthews said.

Even outside sources can see the positive effect of Matthews’ project.

“The impact of Sara Blair’s work at Muncy was felt on day one,” Edwards said. “The positive culture she’s created and fostered through her involvement at Muncy is exactly what our population needed, and is directly in line with the Department of Corrections’ goals and objectives relating to Re-entry Services.”

The students in her class are obviously different from University students. Matthews said that the students are a mix of people who have been convicted of numerous crimes. The inmates include a range of people, some who will be released soon and some who have life sentences.

There were two requirements to join Matthew’s class: inmates had to be on good standing at Muncy and could not be released from the prison before the course ends on Dec. 10.

Despite the history of her students, Matthews said that she has never felt scared or intimidated during her time teaching. The classroom is simply an open room with no guards. She said there are offices outside of the classroom that are looking in, so if anything were to happen, officers would be ready to help. Matthews said that it is usually just her and her students in the classroom, and that she has never felt threatened by her students.

“I never felt intimidated or like I didn’t trust them,” Matthews said. “They respect me and what I have to say. Plus, most of the people are choosing to be there, so they are just grateful that someone from the outside is taking time out of their life to teach them.”

This nine-week course culminated in a final reading showcase that was held on Dec. 3. Matthews said that each of her students read a five or six minute sample of their work from the semester. The audience included other class members, and even friends and family, some of whom traveled across the country to hear the presentation.

“The final reading was phenomenal,” Matthews said. “The women in my class really reached deep with their work and weren’t afraid to share their personal stories. It was a really powerful reading, and I think their friends and family were blown away by what they had to say. I know I was.”

In the future, Matthews said she wants to get more students involved in the teaching. Her goal is to start her own club with the help of the current Empowering Voices club. She also plans to work with the Office of Civic Engagement, where students could meet as a group after each visit to discuss the impact of their experiences.

“The Muncy project initiated by Sara Blair is a fabulous way for students to learn about themselves, their community, and our judicial and penal systems,” McDayter said. “I cannot express how impressed I have been with Sara Blair’s work on this project; she has shown herself to be intellectually and emotionally generous, incredibly self-motivated, and remarkably level-headed.”

Edwards was equally impressed by the success of Matthews’ class.

“[Sara Blair] accepted the monumental challenge of developing a syllabus and taking a group of ladies at Muncy State Prison on a journey they will not soon forget,” Edwards said. “There will be change in the future, and Bucknell and Sara Blair are poised to ensure their strides and future plans are included in those changes.”

For more information about the project, or if you are interested in getting involved, please contact Sara Blair Matthews at

Register at affinity house proves to be successful

Kerong Kelly


The LGBT Affinity Program, Fran’s House, hosted its first register on Nov. 8 in the Summit House basement. Three-hundred people attended the event.

The register is the product of planning by different groups on campus, including the LGBTQ Resource Center, Residential Education, and the Affinity Program. Bill McCoy, director of the LGBTQ Resource Center, collaborated with Tatham Dilks ’15, the Affinity Program RA, and Kate Albertini ’14, the house leader for the Fran’s House Affinity Program, in hopes of providing an alternative social scene to the Greek-lettered organization events on campus.

“It was really special to see people of all class years, backgrounds, races, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, and ability statuses dancing together, as well as both Greek organization-affiliated students and independent students,” Albertini said.

The event was held in the basement of Summit House from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. and drew students from all different backgrounds. Attendees included Greek organization-affiliated students as well as independent students.

“There was a safe space for everyone: whether you wanted to have good conversation and catch up with friends, or actually get down and dance,” Manisha Kaur ’16 said. “Also, I’ve never been to a party with snacks so that was a nice alternative to alcohol. It was everything a person would want in a register, without the drunk messes and creepiness. I think this is what college parties should really be like.”

The theme of the event, “NO(v) H8,” was aimed to include all students and provide a safe, non-alcoholic space. The register admitted students with valid BU IDs and guests with appropriate identification. Justin Westdyke ’15 and Zac Westdyke ’15 were DJs at the register.

“We are very proud of how it turned out,” Richelle Kozlusky ’14 said. “It completely fulfilled its purpose of providing a safe space for anyone to enjoy themselves without fear of discrimination. The atmosphere of the night reflected the absence of unwanted social pressures. Everyone really seemed to be having a great time.”

People deserve second chances

El McCabe


When it comes to change, there are two perspectives on the issue: the belief that humans are dynamic and capable of bettering themselves, and the belief that people cannot change under any circumstances. Believers of the latter contend that people who commit crimes and make mistakes should not be given second chances. In their minds, convicts and incarcerated individuals do not deserve bail or another chance to reenter society because they will continue to commit crimes and break laws. I believe this view is misguided and ignorant at best, especially when it comes to minors. In reality, people make mistakes and break rules all of the time. It just happens that some crimes are worse than others, and some people are better at evading law enforcement than others. It is terrifying to think that a mistake that someone makes as a 17-year-old could affect the rest of their life.

Think about all of the ridiculous, immature, and inexplicable things you did in the first 17 years of your life. Think of all the times you felt pressured to act a certain way or do something that you knew wasn’t right. Everyone has experienced peer-pressure to some degree in their lives, and most can think back to a time they did something they regretted. Serious offenses cannot be overlooked, but holding children and teens completely accountable for their early misdemeanors is unreasonable. Besides, locking up a child under age 18 for his entire life is not a viable solution. The child will never learn from his actions and will grow to resent the law and its enforcers for the rest of his life. The state and federal government will shovel thousands of tax dollars onto this child until he dies and another minor takes his spot. The child’s parents will never get to see their child grow up and contribute to society. Tax payers will lose money on this child’s incarceration costs that could be used for more effective purposes, such as bettering institutions to keep kids from committing crimes in the first place.

After a major decision in the Supreme Court last year, minors can no longer be granted life sentences for their crimes. It declared that dealing out life sentences to minors was “cruel and unusual punishment” and unconstitutional by all accounts. This decision was the first necessary step of many that need to be taken in order to fully grant individuals second chances. It is safe to say that there are still many flaws in the American penal system, but granting minors more rights is a victory to take note of. Real change will occur only when people cease to believe that imprisonment is the solution to crime. Our country needs to stop focusing on punishment, and focus more on prevention. Only then will crime rates decrease and prisons will stop overflowing.

Football defeats Georgetown on Senior Day to capture winning record within Patriot League

Cooper Mead

Senior Writer

The football team beat Georgetown (1-9 overall, 0-4 PL) at Christy Mathewson-Memorial Stadium by a 17-7 margin to bring its overall record to 5-5. With a 3-2 record in the Patriot League, the Orange and the Blue finished above .500 in conference play for the first time since 2004.

The Bison performance was marked by stifling defensive play that limited the Hoyas to just 22 yards on the ground and 171 yards overall. This marked the sixth time this year that an opponent has failed to reach 100 rushing yards in a game against the Bison. The Bison’s seventh-ranked rush defense was led by Evan Byers ’15 and Demetrius Baldwin-Youngblood ’15 who both came up with eight tackles on the day. Baldwin-Youngblood contributed heavily with three sacks, setting a career-high.

On the offense, the Bison controlled field position throughout the contest as their average drive starting point was at their own 44-yard line compared with Georgetown’s average at just their own 18-yard line. Brandon Wesley ’14 had another productive day, as he tallied 112 yards on 14 of 21 passing. He also added his 25th career touchdown and his 112 passing yards brought his total to 6,073 career yards, further extending his school record.

On the ground, CJ Williams ’17 continued to run hard, as he gained for 67 yards on 19 carries. Williams was complemented by Matt DelMauro’s ’16 58 yards on nine carries.

“The team plays together and for the man next to them; no one is selfish and the Georgetown win was a team win on all three phases of the game. It was great to send the seniors out on a high note,” Williams said.

Despite a relatively slow game offensively for the Bison, they came out swinging in the second quarter and came up with scores on three consecutive drives to register all 17 of their points. On their first drive of the quarter, the Bison set up inside the 10-yard line after a crucial 26-yard completion from Wesley to Kyle Sullivan ’14. Wesley then connected on a six-yard touchdown pass to Josh Brake ’15 to put the Bison up 7-0.

The Bison defense held strong on the next Hoya drive to force a quick punt and give the Bison offense the ball. Sullivan was able to return the punt 31 yards, and Wesley and the Bison orchestrated a five-play, 27-yard drive that was concluded by Travis Friend’s ’14 four-yard touchdown carry, giving the Bison a formidable 14-0 advantage.

Georgetown continued to struggle but made a costly error on the first play of the next drive, as a fumble set the Bison offense up on the Georgetown 31-yard line. Despite great field position, the Bison were forced to kick a field goal. Kicker Sean Cobelli ’14 split the uprights on a 33-yard boot on his first kick all season for the Bison.

Georgetown remained scoreless until its final possession when the offense coordinated an 11-play, 71-yard drive that culminated in a one-yard touchdown run with just 7:55 left to play in the game. The Bison sealed the victory as they wound the clock down on an impressive display of clock management on the last drive of the contest.

Prior to the game, a special recognition went out to the seniors at their last home game of their Bison football careers. These seniors included Cobelli, Derek-London Dierkes, Jake Flaherty, Brent Forbes, Friend, Blair Gatewood, Jeff Goyette, Matt Johnson, Austin Kevitch, Patryk Najbar, Derrick Palmer, Joe Sangimino, Sean Sellers, Tracey Smith, Wayne Stewart, Sullivan, Charles Thompson, Sal Vallala and Wesley.

“It was great to be a part of the pre-game ceremony honoring our seniors,” head coach Joe Susan said. “To be able to win in their final game at Christy Mathewson-Memorial Stadium is special for them and a memory that will be with them and their teammates for a long time.”

The Bison will hope to carry their momentum into tomorrow, as they head to VMI to conclude their season.

Outdoor play is essential to a healthy childhood

Natalie Kawalec

Contributing Writer

Meeting up with neighbors after school to play soccer or hide-and-seek, fish in the creek, or climb up to a tree house were outdoor activities I enjoyed during my childhood. Whether it was kickball, hopscotch, or tag, exploring the outdoors seemed like a necessity to our survival. We did everything we could to play outside, and when we did something bad, our punishment was not being allowed to go outside. What kid doesn’t come home for dinner dirty and wearing tattered clothes? The answer is one that has a smartphone.

Kids are getting phones, specifically smartphones, at younger ages nowadays. I had my first cell phone when I was 11 years old, and I had my first smartphone when I was 14. Now, toddlers have smartphones. Shielding children from electronics in the technologically dependent world we live in is impossible, but buying them a smartphone when they are actually ready for one is a practical choice. This poses the question–when are they ready? This is subjective and will differ from household to household, but I think someone is mature enough and ready for a smartphone when he or she is actually able to use all the applications and features the device has to offer.

Giving children iPhones before they even know the alphabet or how to compute basic math is not beneficial. A child’s mind is not nearly developed enough to already be dependent on technology. There are apps that help boost a child’s brain activity and vocabulary, but children should still acquire basic skills, like reading an actual book and playing physical games, prior to accessing technology. Young children that persistently use smartphones will not even know how to flip pages of a book, but will try to tap them instead. Technology does not teach patience, real-life skills, or critical thinking. It gives you instant satisfaction because there is always a shortcut to a problem.

Outdoor play is critical for young children. Children learn vital developmental tasks such as exploration, motor skills, movement skills, risk-taking, and general life knowledge. Children need opportunities to discover, wonder, experiment, and build. They have to push their limits to see their physical competences in nature. Children learn essential knowledge about how the world works from playing outdoors. How does grass feel? What happens when you throw a pebble into a pond? Our connection with the natural world can only be determined by first-hand experience. It is frightening to think that at this rate, outdoor play will not be part of a child’s development in future generations.