From People & Stories / Gente y Cuentos participants:

“In a People & Stories session, we are physically here [in prison] but mentally elsewhere–feeling different things, smelling the scent of a memory, feeling a touch, seeing the scene described by the author.”

“The connection to the stories helps me to feel so much less alone in the universe.”

“I loved the stories and I loved the discussions.  I learned to really pay attention to the specifically chosen words in short stories because short stories are compact–the words are chosen very carefully.”

“People & Stories has greatly increased my appreciation of, and respect for, the literature of authors of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds.  Diversity can be the source of real learning power and helps to create a deeper and better understanding and respect for our brothers and sisters.”

“[In this program] you learn to truly listen to and respect the opinions of others, which is the essential basis for effective communication, and ultimately peaceful coexistence.”

“My most memorable moment was when we read a sad story by the name “The Shawl” by Louise Erdrich.  It was like staring back in time.  The story allowed me to look at incidents from a different perspective because I was able to identify with the character in the story.”

“I love the interaction of individuals, all strangers listening to one another and respecting one’s opinion.  I love the sessions; it brings men [at “Operation Fatherhood,” Trenton New Jersey] together helping the young and the old.”

“I never had bedtime stories read to me, not as a child, nor as a teen, nor as an adult– until a People & Stories class.  My mind began to wonder how much have I missed out on by not being read to and then I also began to wonder–how much had my children missed out on by not having no one read to them?  One thing I chose to resolve, I will read to my four grandchildren upon my eventual release.  I will give to them what People & Stories gave to me–a sense that I too matter, I too am important, I too am cared about by someone.”

“When I was at Interim House before, I loved this group because it helped me comprehend reading more. Now I’m getting my GED and I’m really trying to understand poetry.”

From Crossing Borders participants:

“I am always struck by what a radical medium literature is for opening up different points of view.  This was especially apparent for me during the music/poetry session.  Words and  music become a way to challenge assumptions about how we interpret and view the world.”

“People are much more perceptive and involved than I expected.  People in incarceration are far less angry and bitter than I expected.”

“The stories we read are really open-ended and you see the ways that individuals connect to the story can be very different.  This is a rich experience. We share thoughts and form friendships.”

“I love the chance to read tremendous literature and share ideas with others!”

“It is always a surprise the many things that are shared in this group.”

“We all have universality of emotions; we all have reactions to loss, pain and happiness, but we all have different experiences with them and through People & Stories, we recognize that.”

From People & Stories / Gente y Cuentos coordinators:

“Many of the participants in the sites where I have coordinated have never been read to, but they do come from communities where oral history, knowledge of the Bible, legends, and stories are part of their cultural background.  Our program has opened for them the opportunity to enter the world of Spanish literature.” – Gente y Cuentos coordinator 

“I found people in my group opening up to each other in a relaxed, non-judgmental manner.  A number of the women remarked that they had had preconceptions about each other going into the sessions and that some of those preconceptions were challenged as they talked more with each other and got to know things they never would have guessed about each others’ lives.  In addition to the stories we read, we have each others’ lives as ongoing narratives, and I think we are always surprised when we realized that the stories of everyone sitting next to us are just as complex and rich as our own life story!” – Re-entry (women) coordinator

“Perhaps the most exciting element I have encountered in my sessions is the fact that P&S/GyC resonates in the deepest levels of the participants’ experience.  This brings not only self-awareness and confidence, but a holistic sense of well-being. Participants express this in their request for the programs to last forever.” – Gente y Cuentos program coordinator

I am constantly amazed at the intelligence and insight brought to our discussions of short stories by these men whose backgrounds (for the most part) are short on formal education but long on difficult life experiences.  There is camaraderie present in each session, along with openness and honesty, a true appreciation for each individual, good humor, and enjoyment of the literature.  Through short stories, these groups form a bond, a sense of the worth and equality of each individual, and a sense of belonging to a greater group of humans who all want to be respected, appreciated, and wanted.  Being greeted by former participants when arriving at the Rescue Mission is a delight and testament to the uplifting quality of the program.” – Re-entry (men) program coordinator

From Authors:

“Thank you for sending me information from People & Stories. I think what you are doing is absolutely wonderful… I live in an undereducated community where even our adults do not know they are hungry for stories. So I am grateful to you and wish you were here working!” – Linda Hogan, whose short story, “Making Do,” is included in our bibliography

Letters of Support:

Leila Duncan, Young Adult Librarian at the Pima County Library, AZ

Chris Christie, Governor, State of New Jersey

Shirley K. Turner, New Jersey State Senator, 15th District

Reed Gusciora, Deputy Majority Leader, New Jersey General Assembly