Camp Afflerbaugh-Paige - "Borrowed Voices"

The fundamental goal of the “Borrowed Voices” program is to create space for humanity, creativity and self-expression. “Borrowed Voices” creates mutually educational and beneficial relationships between two groups of people who usually do not have much contact. The guiding philosophy allows the incarcerated students and Pitzer facilitators to be both teachers and students; this exchange of life experiences creates empathy across boundaries and validates different kinds of knowledge and learning. A second goal of the Borrowed Voices program is to introduce and practice reading, writing, performance, and public speaking. These curricula serve academically but also build confidence, self-awareness, and life-skills for success outside of the correctional system.  For students who have been failed by the school system, this serves as a second chance and an alternative approach to education. Through the performance events and writing the students stories can be shared with a broader audience with the hopes of dispelling some of the stereotypes or assumptions about the realities of these young people’s lives and opinions, educating a broad audience about incarceration and the politics of inequality in our society, and inspiring empathy in others.

This program culminates in a published poetry anthology and a Spoken Word Open Mic event at Pitzer College. Pitzer participants, local spoken word organizations and poets from the campus and the community come together to celebrate this partnership, bear witness to the writing and learning which this program facilitates and to share in a night of poetry and creative expression. For the past couple of years, with the immense support from the high school and probation staff, Camp AP probation has released and escorted up to ten wards to join in this empowering event for the night.  We also host a final event at the Camps to celebrate the work that is done each semester.  This spoken word open mic-style performance event allows an opportunity for all the Camp AP participants to have a chance to perform their work with their peers and Pitzer mentors.

“Borrowed Voices” demands a lot not only from the Camp AP students but also the volunteers.   Each teaching group meets together before their class to review the lesson plans and delegate tasks.  We have monthly debrief sessions and trainings to develop professionally but also practice self-care and build community.  The curriculum tackles a variety of sensitive issues through a critical lens, many issues may be personal not only for the Camp wards but also the student volunteers.  Everyone involved must challenge themselves to be vulnerable and honest in order to be strong role models. Here are some things student facilitators have said about their experiences:

“As I interacted with the students, I realized that I am definitely going to be learning just as much from them as they will from me. There was so much creativity and honesty in the room.”

“I come from privilege, and though classes I have taken at Pitzer have helped me grapple with working to acknowledge my privilege without feeling ashamed of it, it doesn’t always erase the guilt I feel, so the level of intensity was quite amazing.”

“We prepared extensively, thinking hard to answer our own question : "What inspires you?" I strangely found it difficult to think of anything special, but by the end of the day, I could have answered with the name of every student in the room.”

Please view the latest publication of Borrowed Voices poetry here and view photos from our latest event here.

The Borrowed Voices program has been honored to work with a number of renowned spoken word artists who generously host guest workshops including those named below and many more:

Daniel Jose Custodio
Youth Speaks Poet Matt Blesse
Street Poets