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Educator Uses Writing, Theater To Reach Out To Inmates, Former Inmates On Central Coast

(Poetic Justice Project photo)
The Poetic Justice Project give formerly incarcerated people a forum to express their creativity

She taught creative writing since for 25 years. But, unlike most writing instructors, Debora Tobola didn’t teach in a traditional school. The Central Coast woman’s classrooms have been filled with students which also share the title of inmates.

Tobola has written a new book about her experiences working behind bars, looking at life there, and also how it’s affected her life. She taught creative writing at the California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo County. The result is the new book “Hummingbird in Underworld: Teaching In A Men’s Prison.”

Tobola says her father worked as what were then called guards at the CMC, and was out chasing an escaped inmate when she was born.  One of her first memories of eating a meal out was at the facility, and she remembers telling her dad that she liked the food at "the joint." 

The Santa Maria woman retired in 2008 to create the Poetic Justice Project, which is a project in which former inmates can express their creativity on stage. Tobola says the project has not only provides a outlet for some, it’s served as an educational tool for audiences.

The teacher, and author says it’s been heartening to see some of her former students continue to write after they were released.  Tobola hopes the book’s readers will take away a simple message: Inmates are people too.

The book “Hummingbird in Underworld: Teaching In A Men’s Prison,” was released on Tuesday.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.