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The Pen Project Gives Voice to Incarcerated Authors and Artists


By Andy Soth | January 6, 2021

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A La Crosse County government building is an unexpected gallery space, but in a way, the works by current and former inmates hung by The Pen Project are quite appropriate. County Supervisor Doug Weidenbach puts it this way, “Of course, we run the jail here in La Crosse County. So, I just thought it would be an excellent fit.”

Husband and wife Chad and Keri White run the non-profit The Pen Project when not attending to their Eau Claire-based design firm. “Producing a magazine is really fun,” exudes Keri. With a background in graphic design, she ensures the finished product meets high standards. “We want it to rival any mainstream art magazine,” Keri says, “to have that same feel.”

Page through issues of The Pen Project and you’ll definitely take note of the high production value with engaging layouts and bold use of text. That attention to detail makes it even more special for the incarcerated contributors. “To have something printed in a magazine,” says Anthony Scholfield, “it was like life-changing.”

Anthony’s life has changed significantly since getting out of prison. He still finds time to create art while working full-time and helps out Chad and Keri when he can. The group met when Anthony was still serving his term and Chad and Keri were in a Christian rock band with a calling to play for those who are jailed.

After concerts, inmates wanted to get the band’s lyrics and even share their own. As more inmates sought creative expression through art and writing, the band got the idea of publishing a collection. Over time the idea grew and The Pen Project is now shipped to 55 facilities in twelve states.

Much of the work shares the Christian outlook of the band, but it’s not a requirement. “I didn’t want to have a big boundary of, ‘Well, you believe this, so you can’t participate,'” Keri says, explaining the main editorial guideline is that the work have a positive message for its audience behind bars.

Helping share that positive message coming from prisoners is what motivates Chad and Keri. Keri says, “It is an honor to give that gift to someone of a voice.”

Andy Soth

Andy Soth

Andy Soth is a reporter for the “Wisconsin Life” project who grew up in a neighboring state but now loves Wisconsin because it’s like Minnesota without the smugness. 
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