Barry J. Nidorf Writers’ Retreat

“How are you all doing?” asked Martin, the student MC, as he addressed the crowd that gathered for the 2011 Writers’ Retreat at Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall on Saturday, October 15th.


Retreats are held annually at each of the three Los Angeles County juvenile halls where IOW offers the Writing Program. Retreats provide an opportunity for students to gather as a community of writers to share and celebrate their writing accomplishments.


This year’s retreat opened with Alum Fernando Zacarias, who had previously been incarcerated at the facility, reading a piece he had written for the event.  Fernando offered words of hope and inspiration to the students, many of whom are facing long-term incarceration.


The highlight of the retreat was when more than 30 students recited their pieces before the assembled audience of peers, teachers, Probation staff, parents and other special guests.  Many of the students’ compositions were letters to family members – some of whom were in the audience.  Several students apologized to their parents for putting them through heartache, while others expressed their desire for change.  One student wrote, “I would like to discover another life for my mom.”


In addition to the students’ readings, IOW was honored to welcome several special guests.  Franky Carrillo, who was recently exonerated and released from prison after serving 20 years, spoke to the students about his experiences.  He encouraged students to be the best people they could be, in whatever circumstances they may find themselves.


The Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance (KIWA) Cultural Resistance Committee, a Korean drumming troupe, also took the stage, energizing the audience with its performance of traditional Korean percussion music called poongmul.  Students and guests alike where mesmerized by the troupe’s chants and the rhythmic beating of the drums, gongs and symbols. KIWA empowers and organizes Koreatown’s low-wage immigrant workers.


Ernie Pelayo, a volunteer music teacher at the juvenile hall, and two students closed the retreat, singing a number of songs.


Special thanks the Power 106 Street Team, featuring Tito Mora and DJ Medek–Eric Medrano, for providing the music.  As always, many thanks to the volunteer teachers who did an outstanding job preparing their students for the retreat!


The next Writers’ Retreat will be held in March 2012 at Central Juvenile Hall.

Retreat Sound Bites



Being in jail has changed me a lot.


It has made me wiser.  It has given me time to think back to where I first went wrong and find other ways that I could use to not go back down that road in the future.


Being in jail also has made me more mature.  I’ve grown up physically and mentally in here.  I’ve gotten more credits in school, and I have gotten closer to God.  I’ve changed a bad situation into a positive one because although being in jail is never good, while I’m here I’m going to make the most progress I can.  I’m more patient, smarter and I still keep my sense of humor.


When I get out, I will use what I’ve learned in jail to my advantage.  I want to become a lawyer and help people like me who are in jail.  If I don’t become a lawyer, I will still help people who are in jail.