When Clint Smith works on something — his nonfiction and poetry, the podcasts “Pod Save the People” and “Justice in America,” his articles in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and The New York Times Magazine, or his Ted Talks — he forges a deep connection with his subject.
That’s why, while working on a doctoral dissertation about juveniles facing life sentences without the possibility of parole, Smith decided to volunteer to teach literature and writing at the central detention facility in his adopted home of Washington D.C.
“I didn’t want to just write about incarceration without spending time with incarcerated people,” Smith said. “That was, and continues to be, very important to me, and it’s probably the most important thing that I’ve done since I’ve been in graduate school. I think I would have had a very different experience if I wasn’t working in prisons and jails for these past several years. It reminded me, and constantly reminds me, what’s at stake, and why this work is so important and so urgent.”
Smith does this work through an organization called Free Minds Book Club, which provides services for inmates, including the reading and writing sessions Smith leads.
“We go around and discuss the themes that the men find and how they’re relevant to the things that are happening in the world today, how they’re relevant to our own lives.”