Weekly Prompt: My Father Spent 30 Years In Prison. Now He's Out.
Every post in this series will include a weekly reading and a list of prompts in response to that reading. Some of them will be focused on craft; some will ask you to evaluate content.
This idea was born from an MFA course I took that focused almost entirely on emulating the style of other writers and then reimagining that first draft into something that was our own but still had echoes of the original. It's also inspired by the heightened sociopolitical reality so many of us come face to face with each day.
Writing can be for pleasure; it can be cathartic; it can be used as a tool; it can preserve memory; it can foster connection. Whatever it may be, I hope this series helps you find what you're looking for out of your practice.
Week of December 7
Craft element to note: Humanization. We all have people in our lives we don't know how to talk about. Maybe there's too much social stigma around the relationship. Maybe you've found yourselves on the opposite ends of a political divide. Maybe the world is telling you to be ashamed of them. Maybe you just can't figure out how to put what you need to say into words. Ford takes on this very issue by writing about her father, who had previously been incarcerated—an experience that, in America, drops your societal status to less than human. What Ford is trying to do here—for her father and, in doing so, for many other previously incarcerated people—is remind us of his humanity.
She does this in a very obvious way: she re-situates him not as an ex-convict but as her father. She doesn't ignore his time in prison, but when we see him there, we see him being as present of a father as possible: writing her letters, holding his hand up to the glass during visiting hours, reminding her how much he loves her and how proud he is of her. She does this in a less obvious way, too: she makes her relationship with her father extremely relatable by bringing in technology. Not every reader will be able to understand the experience of having an incarcerated parent, but every child knows the struggle of trying to get their parents on the same page technology-wise. This parallel also allows Ford to step away from her father and comment on a societal shift she sees happening, which widens the scope of the essay from one specific relationship.
- Who in your life do you have a complicated relationship with? Without worrying about getting the words just right, write about why the relationship is so charged.
- Pivoting from the previous prompt, write about your relationship and why it's so charged from a societal standpoint. Besides your interpersonal interactions, what external factors add pressure? Do you agree with this pressure? If not, write about this person in a way that subverts those factors.
- Stepping back from the differences you see in the relationship, write about how you connect with this person. How has that method of communication changed over time?
- How has your relationship with technology changed over time? Do you feel you're caught up on tech or lagging behind?
- What's a communication style or method specific to your family? How has it fostered relationships in a way another style or method may not have?