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Indy native spends 10 years in prison, says writing poetry helped him become a better man

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – Sitting on the front porch of his childhood home on the near northside of Indianapolis, Corey Cathren reads a poem he wrote for his daughter.

One day another butterfly was flying over him. And as he looked up he saw the grace and majestic manor in which it flew, and he wished he could do the same.

Armed with a pen, a piece of paper and now freedom, the above words are a reminder of how far he’s come.

Cathren says he had a happy childhood full of laughter and playing basketball in the park across the street, but somewhere along the way, his life took a turn and his choices landed him at Plainfield Correctional Facility for drug possession.

“My mother worked all the time, that left me to my own devices and when you grow up in communities with crime and drugs, it’s easy for a child to get swayed into,” said Cathren.

The now 42-year-old says the first few years in prison were hard.

“I’m close to my mom and not being able to pick up the phone and call my mom either because of no money for the phone or count times, that’s hard,” added Cathren.

Things in prison changed when in 2018, he met Debra Des Vignes, a former investigative journalist and founder of Indiana Prison Writers Workshop.

“I believe in second chances. In helping people who want to better themselves,” said Des Vignes, who got the idea for the workshop going off-script while volunteering at the facility in late 2017.

“Our first writing prompt was write about what you’re remorseful about your story. It was amazing. The energy in the room was that of healing and growth and vulnerability,” added Des Vignes.

From there, the Indiana Prison Writers Workshop was born with the goal of helping incarcerated men successfully reenter society.

Two years later, Des Vignes and her team of two volunteers have now served 84 men across five state prisons and a recent study by the Indiana University Public Policy Institute shows the writing is working.

“A 38% reduction in conduct volitions for inmates in the workshop coupled with a few other programs. People have told us they feel more confident,” said Des Vignes.

The confidence comes from being able to communicate thoughts and feelings in a productive way. The workshop focuses on cover letter writing as well as creative writing.

“We all have stories to tell. With a blank piece of paper, it’s almost like therapy to let that out when you have nothing else to do,” added Cathren who has been out of prison for 10 months.

Cathren credits the 12-week program for the life he’s rebuilding. He now has a job at an auto mechanic factory, his own clothing brand and is a mentor to kids in his neighborhood.

And as Indianapolis crime rates continue to increase, Cathren has a message for troubled youth.

“I tell them you know, it’s not worth the risk, it’s not worth losing your freedom or any of that,” said Cathren who sincerely believes art can change lives for the better.

“Put that pen to paper and let’s show the world we can do something,” Cathren said smiling.

As for the workshop, because of the pandemic, Des Vignes is expanding outreach to former inmates outside of prison and the organization is looking for businesses willing to lend their space for writing sessions.

Click here for more information or to volunteer.