Crossing the Yard: Thirty Years as a Prison Volunteer by Richard Shelton

Crossing the Yard:Thirty Years as a Prison Volunteer, written by Richard Shelton, is a rare look into the lives of people incarcerated in maximum security prisons. The book tells of Shelton teaching creative writing to prisoners in grim and violent facilities as a volunteer for thirty years. This memoir, written with tough-minded honesty, forces the reader to see the humanity in condemned and forgotten people, and this interface between a committed, compassionate teacher and eager students reminds us of what is possible when people find their voices–and sometimes a new identity–in the process of writing. The stories compel us to see “bad” people in a new, more whole way and recounts the satisfaction of seeing their poetry published in various books, projects taken on by both Shelton and his wife.

The acclaimed poet Jimmy Santiago Baca was one of his students. The book points to the success of art programs inside prisons, and how creativity, especially in the writing of poetry, has the power to both flourish and heal. In the face of constant frustrations when dealing with the repression of prison systems, Shelton is a model of tenacity and courage. Crossing the Yard gives us examples of the triumph of the human spirit, in both teachers and students alike.

Published by the University of Arizona Press
ISBN: 978-0-8165-2594-2
Available in libraries and at

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