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Letters to My Younger Self

Common Reading

Freshman Gabrielle Gehron said it was the best thing she read all semester.

“And I read it like in a couple days,” Gehron said of the book, “Letters to My Younger Self,” which was chosen as the reading for the 2015 first-year common experience; a program at Widener that centers on building an engaging community among freshman students in their first semester on campus.

Co-edited by English Professor Jayne Thompson and recent English/creative writing graduate Emily DeFreitas, “Letters to My Younger Self” is a collection of writings by men imprisoned at S.C.I. Graterford.

“This one book gives us all something to talk about,” said Gehron, a biomedical engineering major. “It is a common experience.”

Thompson, who conceived the idea for the book while teaching writing and reading at Graterford, hopes it teaches students empathy and that it helps to break negative stereotypes of the incarcerated.

“We lead the world in our incarceration rate; so much money is spent, yet we are so unsuccessful and we continue with the same practices,” she said.

As part of the semester-long experience, students heard from special guest speakers and Thompson also met with freshman English students to discuss the book through an interactive lesson where she asked them to design their own prisons.

Thompson added that the response from Widener students about the book has been overwhelming, noting that many have asked to volunteer with the prisoners.

“We are in the planning stages of doing an urban excursion to the prison,” she said.

Members of Lone Brick Theatre Company also performed monologues taken from the book. Additionally, the company performed “Hello, Out There,” a one-act play set in a small Texas jail.

“The hope is that these plays will extend the important discussions begun in Jayne Thompson’s text,” said Robert Reutter, company director and senior lecturer of English.

Gehron remarked that programs like the first-year common experience make Widener unique because the university is not just interested in producing students who are good at math, science, or engineering; they want to develop leaders who can better society.

“It’s incredibly important for people to empathize with their fellow humans, so for Widener and Professor Thompson to bring that to light… it’s probably going to result in us not only being better students, but better people,” she said.