Originally conducted in 2009 by Progressive editor Matthew Rothschild, this interview with Jimmy Santiago Baco aired two months ago on the Making Contact radio program.
“Words as the Way to Freedom” explores Baca’s discovery of poetry while serving time in an Arizona prison for drug possession. He discusses how poetry changed the way he saw beauty, the trans-formative potential of discovering heritage, his experience writing a poem for the mother of an illiterate member of the Aryan Brotherhood, and what made him decide to return to his home community to help others find freedom through language and expression.
For a little back story on Baca here is an overview from his bio page. (You can read the bio in its entirety by clicking here).
Instead of becoming a hardened criminal, he emerged from prison a writer. Baca sent three of his poems to Denise Levertov, the poetry editor of Mother Jones. The poems were published and became part of Immigrants in Our Own Land, published in 1979, the year he was released from prison. He earned his GED later that same year. He is the winner of the Pushcart Prize, the American Book Award, the International Hispanic Heritage Award and for his memoir A Place to Stand the prestigious International Award. In 2006 he won the Cornelius P. Turner Award. The national award recognizes one GED graduate a year who has made outstanding contributions to society in education, justice, health, public service and social welfare.
Baca has devoted his post-prison life to writing and teaching others who are overcoming hardship. His themes include American Southwest barrios, addiction, injustice, education, community, love and beyond. He has conducted hundreds of writing workshops in prisons, community centers, libraries, and universities throughout the country.
You can learn more, find more links, and read more poems of Baca’s by visiting his homepage at http://jimmysantiagobaca.com/
Here’s the interview with Matthew Rothschild as aired on Making Contact this past November.