Common Good Conference
February 5, 2015
Artie, Cali, Carlito, Declaration, The Fallen, Judah, Mirage, R. Carlos, Tariq, Thayer, Ty, and William II.
Dr. John Browning, Dr. Lauren Neefe, Dr. Eric Rettberg, Dr. Clint Stivers, Dr. Ellen Stockstill, Dr. Ruth Yow, Bill Taft, and Sarah Higinbotham.
9:30-10:00: Poster Sessions
Mirage: The Graphic Novel and
R. Carlos: Course Timeline and
William II: Sacred Words:
Narrative Style in Momaday’s
House Made of Dawn
The Fallen: “Bad Buff”: Native American Windigo and Hamlet
Carlito: The Mind Oppressed: Recidivism as a Learned Behavior
Thayer: Reading James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist Through a Jungian Lens
Judah: Sow Hunger, Reap Fury
1:00-11:30: Questions & Answers
Our First Annual Common Good Conference demonstrated not only the profound depth of the incarcerated scholars’ academic work, but also their remarkable poise, grace, humor, warm human interaction, and insatiable intellectual curiosity. The breadth of their scholarship was “astonishing” according to Dr. Clint Stivers. Every single attendee said the conference was “undisputedly the single best conference” they had ever attended. Why? Because every aspect of the conference was exemplary:
All the scholars addressed their situation in a manner that could advance professional discourse on the topic.
"Thank you for giving me the opportunity to be at the conference. It was the single most significant expression of why we do what we do – teach, read, and think – that I’ve ever experienced."
Each presenter had crafted his presentation to explore a sophisticated stance:
- The Fallen revealed that great works of art like Hamlet are not just telling a story, but passing on a culture – a culture that is palimpsested and interwoven with other cultures
- Carlito extended Foucault and Friere’s arguments in a new trajectory by exploring the way that prison attempts to incapacitate the mind as well as the body
- Thayer proposed that Jung’s theories of the archetype and the imagination could fruitfully be applied to James Joyce’s The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, revealing new truths about both the unconscious and Joyce’s writing
- Judah explored how child poverty shapes the trajectories of children throughout life, and argued that a solution is found when communities come together for the common good.
As each scholar presented, the faculty audience visibly engaged with their work: leaning in, nodding, taking notes, starting in surprise and delight at the compelling ideas presented with such intellectual fervor. Each presenter balanced his work with humorous touches (like the Fallen’s opening reference to the iconic opening question in Hamlet) and went on to make sophisticated, complex connections with intellectual fervor.
At the question and answer sessions, the scholars really shined. Dr. Eric Rettberg asked the first question: “Fallen, can you tell us more about why and how you are using palimpsest as a theory?” Fallen immediately contextualized his work within his larger interest of monster culture and explained how the palimpsest allowed him to frame his indigenous culture with Renaissance England. Dr. Ellen Stockstill noted that Declaration’s opening metaphor of the “library” shaped her understanding of an academic conference in a new way. Dr. Lauren Neefe elaborated on Thayer’s observation that Freud is over-used in literary analysis, and suggested why and how his use of Jung will benefit Joycean studies. The next day, she contacted everyone in the audience and started gathering books that intersect with each man’s presentation, like Joyce’s Ulysses. Many audience members wanted to know how Carlito might address a solution to the oppressed mind. Three weeks after the conference, he had the opportunity to adapt his work as an academic article in the Wake Forest Journal of Law & Policy. When Judah was asked if poverty leads to crime, the audience agreed later that he offered one of the most articulate and compelling responses to that controversial question.
In the ensuing weeks since the conference, I am often stopped on the Georgia Tech campus. Sometimes it’s by people who heard about the conference: “When is the next one and can I attend? What do I have to do to teach in the program? Do you need books? How did this all start?” And frequently it is by one of the six professors who came to the prison that day to become part of our beloved community: “Thank you for giving me the opportunity to be at the conference. It was the single most significant expression of why we do what we do – teach, read, and think – that I’ve ever experienced.”
Paulo Freire said that “reading is not walking on the words; it’s grasping the soul of them.” At the first Common Good Conference, the scholars grasped the soul of words. And they then projected those words onto the souls of other scholars. The bar has been set very high for every other conference that I attend.
- Sarah Higinbotham