Updated: Oct 5, 2021
Zoë Jennings is a young writer. She earned degrees in journalism and history from Colorado State University. She wrote and edited for the arts and culture desk of the Collegian, the university’s newspaper. Though she has been writing all her life, The Word on the Yard is her first book. She enjoyed writing articles with her journalism background, but knew that writing a book would give her time to deeply explore a subject. She is a firm believer that everyone has a story. She looks forward to telling those stories in future projects. When she’s not writing she’s teaching preschoolers, doing yoga, kayaking, or hiking.
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The process behind The Word on the Yard: Stories from D.O.C #166054
Q: What inspired you to write the book?
A: I’ve always wanted to write a book. I’ve always loved compelling stories. Coming from a journalism background, I gravitated toward books because you can more fully tell stories. When I saw Dave’s Craigslist ad and later met Dave, I knew he had a compelling story that would easily fill those pages of my book.
Q: As a first-time author, what was the most difficult part of the writing process? How long did it take you to write the book?
A: The most difficult part of the writing process was that I was a first-time author. I didn’t know your typical steps to follow in the book writing process. At the same time, I think that left my mind open to my process and the book flowed in my own way.
Q: Did you ever find it intimidating entering prisons to conduct interviews?
A: Initially I was excited to visit prisons because I had never been inside before. I was nervous to be denied access to prisons. Most prisons have strict visiting policies, and I didn’t want to make the trip for nothing.
Q: Do you have any advice to other writers about your strategy going into an interview? Did you come in with questions prepared or did you allow the conversation to develop organically?
A: This may be an unpopular strategy, but I honestly don’t prepare any questions for an interview. I really like the organic way that genuine conversations unfold.
Q: In terms of the book's content surrounding the difficult topic of prison, was there any moment during the interview or writing process that was emotionally difficult?
A: Honestly this whole process was emotionally difficult. It really opened me up to the realities that people face in prison. As a society I think we avoid talking about prisons. When you actually go and see the reality of prison, I don’t think you can help but feel emotional about the treatment of people who are incarcerated.
Q: Has your connotation of the term "convict" evolved since writing TWOTY?
A: “Convict” for me was just a colloquialism before the book. Now I know the deeper definition of it. Convict is a label to describe someone who has given up the mainstream society’s rules and expectations and replaced them with their own rules of fighting against the law and police officers.
Q: How has your opinion of the U.S. prison system changed since you've written this book?
A: I can’t say I had a super favorable opinion of the U.S. prison system before the book, but I’d say it was an uninformed opinion. Now that I’ve heard many stories about it, I have become even more critical of the system. I think it definitely needs reform.
Q: What is one thing you wish the general public better understood about the U.S. prison system?
A: This is something I know that made Dave sad in prison is the fact that the majority of people in prison are addicts. I think most people would agree that addiction impairs decision making and leads to behavior that’s completely uncharacteristic for that person. With that being said, I’m not sure if it makes sense just to punish instead of offer rehabilitation, especially because many people can still get drugs and alcohol in prison.
Q: What is your favorite moment from the book?
A: I’m not sure if I could pick a favorite moment from the book. I enjoyed every step of the process. I loved hearing everyone’s stories. Writing is my true love, so I loved writing those stories too. A great moment I will always remember is eating breakfast with Dave the day after he got released from parole. We’ve become good friends now, and it’s great to celebrate those moments with him.
Q: Tell us a little about your background as a writer. What sorts of topics did you enjoy writing about in the past? Had you ever had an interest in writing about the Colorado prison experience before?
A: In the past I loved writing anything about people. I believe that everyone has a story to tell. I did not anticipate writing a book about the Colorado prison experience. I hadn’t written anything about it before.
Q: Do you see yourself as a primarily creative nonfiction writer? Are you working on any other creative nonfiction projects currently?
A: I really fell in love with creative nonfiction while writing this book. I really feel like you just can’t make up the details that naturally come from real peoples’ stories.