LEAD (Literacy Education in Adult Detention) With Comics is Pop Culture Classroom’s ongoing project in jail systems and detention centers across Colorado. It’s a six week course for incarcerated adults, with the goal of helping to improve their literacy and art skills using comics and graphic novels. Current research shows that inmates who receive literacy education have a 16% recidivism rate, while those that don’t are over four times more likely to end up in jail again. LEAD was developed as a creative way to reach struggling readers and help them find a positive way forward.

In May, Pop Culture Classroom began a partnership with Sterling Correctional Facility to bring the LEAD With Comics program to their library as an opportunity for the inmates in the “incentive unit.” The course includes reading materials, interactive activities and comics-based literacy and art lessons designed to help students investigate storytelling and the creation of story. Erin Boyington, Library Supervisor at Sterling, was the lead teacher in the course, and was joined by Renae Kubitz and Brett Hodgins. Dion Harris, an art instructor provided by Pop Culture Classroom, also taught art workshops as part of the program.

“I loved getting a chance to talk about graphic novels, literature, and let the participants engage with books in a way that they might not be familiar with,” Boyington said. “My favorite part was discussing the books, asking questions and getting sometimes surprising answers.”

All instruction is designed to ensure that everyone in the class, from pop culture fanatics to first-time comic readers, can be engaged and find new ways to express themselves. After discussing how art and words work together to tell a story, students are given the chance to create comics of their own.

“It was rewarding to see how much work they put into a class that wasn’t even graded or part of a parole plan,” Boyington said. “Many of the final projects were 20+ pages of closely drawn art.”

On July 8, Sterling had its first graduating class, with 14 out of 15 students completing the course. All of them produced comic books that were incredibly ambitious in scope, and received a certificate of completion.

“Many of the students have stopped by to thank me,” Boyington said. “Men in prison don’t always have a way to get constructive criticism of their creative endeavors, so LEAD is a unique opportunity. They got to show off their hard work and artistic ability, even the ones who started out thinking they didn’t have any!”

Click here to learn more about LEAD With Comics.