CLEVELAND — An organization has partnered with youth detention facilities throughout Ohio to help incarcerated youths become published authors by the time they're released.

What You Need To Know

  • Writers in Residence provides creative writing workshops for incarcerated youths

  • The organization received a $50,000 grant from the Cleveland Foundation to support its mission

  • The youths in the program become published writers as their work is published in a small book or pamphlet called a chapbook

Zachary Thomas is a passionate writer.

Courtesy: Writers in Residence

"A lot of good times a lot of bad times I can express myself and share that with other people for them to further understand who I am and where I come from," said Thomas.

While he was in undergrad at John Carroll University, Thomas and a group of friends found a way to share their love for writing with a special group.

"We empower youth voices that are incarcerated," he said.

Thomas is the executive director for Writers in Residence. During fall and spring school semesters the organization hosts weekly creative writing workshops at youth detention centers giving the youth an opportunity to express themselves through writing.

"People will call them felons, criminals, so and so forth but we really try to show the humanity that comes out in their writing," Thomas said.

Courtesy: Writers in Residence

Thomas said his goal is to show the youth that their voice and their story matter. He also hopes writing changes the course of their lives.

"It's something that I have a responsibility to share with other people that just because they may be incarcerated doesn't mean that's the end of their story," said Thomas. "They're going to just use that as a launchpad as 'you know what, I'm in this circumstance I want to become a better person this is how I'm going to achieve that,'" said Thomas.

Not only does the program offer young people a new direction, it also helps them leave incarceration as published authors.

"At the end of every creative writing workshop that we have, we publish all of our residents creative writing into chapbooks," said Thomas. "And a chapbook is basically a collection of poetry or prose, letters, any creative writing that they produce and it's a big piece of our program because it's advocacy for us."

Writers in Residence received a $50,000 grant from the Cleveland Foundation to help support its mission. Thomas said the money will allow them to hire staff and assist the youth in the program as they re-enter society.

Courtesy: Writers in Residence

"A lot of our residents get out and they don't have a lot of the resources that they need to be successful and to not return to a juvenile facility in any capacity," he said. "A lot of them don't want to go back. A lot of them want to get an education, want to get secure housing, want to get employment but there's a lot of barriers when you leave incarceration and you have that label on your record."

Writers in Residence has partnerships with youth facilities in northeast Ohio, Dayton and Marrietta.​