A Note From the Editor

by Amy Sterne


When I began working on Duende in the fall of 2014, the idea of featuring work from incarcerated writers had already been decided on by the previous semester’s staff. While I did not share in the inception of the idea for this feature, I jumped at the chance to help it along to fruition. Both I, and previous managing editor Jørn Otte, volunteered to take on the challenges that this project presented. Both of us have family members and close friends that are a part of the 2.2 million Americans currently incarcerated in the U.S. prison system, and the reality is, that most of those prisoners have been silenced by their sentences.

We had some heated conversations at our Duende staff meetings in making decisions about how to shape this feature. We asked ourselves and each other some hard questions: How can we give a platform to those who have perpetrated some heinous crimes? How can we not? How can we claim that our mission statement is to give a voice to underrepresented people if we choose to ignore one of the most marginalized groups? We disagreed. We fought. We have raised our voices passionately in defense of one position or another. Tears were shed.         

The thing that we agreed on though, is that this feature is not about the culpability of our contributors, or whether or not we are implicated by proxy. (For the record, Duende doesn’t condone any of the crimes that have been committed by the writers whose work appears in this issue, nor would we publish work that glorified those crimes.) We believe that this feature isn’t about the crimes that have been committed, and it isn’t about whether these inmates are guilty or innocent. It isn’t about how broken the American justice system is, or how we might possibly work together to fix it.

It is about the way that stories and poems and art have the ability to transform and connect us. At Duende we believe that words have the ability to transcend figurative walls of class, race, gender, sexual orientation, as well as literal, concrete ones. The work that we’ve chosen to feature in this issue gives us hope. Hope that feelings of rage, desperation, helplessness, hopelessness, frustration—feelings that perhaps caused these crimes to be committed in the first place—can be channeled into art, creativity, and expression.  So, dear reader, please approach these pieces with an open mind, and help us to celebrate that hope.