"In the beginning was the Word," quotes the Christian’s Holy Bible. The Buddhist religion proclaims spiritual power comes from intoning the simple and sacred monosyllable, "Om", which stands for Absolute Reality. In school, we learn the pen is mightier than the sword. When Woodward and Bernstein’s Watergate exposé toppled a supposedly omnipotent American president, we were shown the power of the press,. Freedom of speech is considered by many to be the most important of an American’s constitutional rights. Hitler demonstrated the power of the word to sway the feelings of the masses. The most powerful sentence? Perhaps it is the reply when Moses asked the burning bush to identify itself: "I am that I am."

Realizing the powerful feelings words can invoke, I request female inmates to whom I teach creative writing to write non-stop for fifteen minutes. During that time, they cannot edit, scratch out, nor lift pen from paper. Every sentence must begin with, "I am . . . ." After 15 minutes of furious scribbling or laborious hen scratching, each woman is asked if she would mind standing and sharing what she has written. The standing is an important part of this creative process. It is the announcement of one’s presence, the pronouncement of one’s creation.

I distinctly remember one eighteen-year-old black woman. She was very attractive and intelligent but beaten down by life. She had been raped at nine by a family member. At ten, she had been told one Saturday night that her mother was going out to get pizza for the family. Her mother never returned. With little education, this child had been snared by the numbness offered by drugs and by thirteen was on the streets, prostituting. As she stood to read, she mumbled. Almost inaudible, anguished utterances. Her head was bowed. Her paper covered her face. "I am a woman. I am black. I am a prisoner. I am eighteen. I am sad. I am afraid. I am angry. I am out of hope. I am searching for a way to make my life better. I am unsure." I am…I am…I am that I am

By the time she finished reading aloud her two-and-a half pages, her words were enunciated, and she was almost shouting. Her head was high, her expression one of newfound dignity. Cheering mixed with tears erupted in the classroom. Toilet tissue was passed around to staunch those tears. I knew a miracle had taken place. During that fifteen-minute writing drill, designed to break through to the subconscious, she had found the power of herself through the power of the word.

– Parris Afton Bonds 2002