State investigating Wally Lamb’s inmate writing program

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Wally Lamb

FILE – In this May 30, 2013 file photo, author Wally Lamb speaks at Book Expo America in New York. A writing program run by Lamb that was designed to give female prisoners a voice, has been suspended amid a lawsuit filed against Lamb and an investigation by the Connecticut Department of Correction. The inmates say they haven’t been paid for their contributions to Lamb’s third anthology of writings designed to give female prisoners a public voice. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The state of Connecticut is investigating an inmate writing program run by author Wally Lamb after a lawsuit was filed this spring by participants.

The lawsuit alleges the inmates have not been paid for their contributions to Lamb’s third anthology of writings designed to give female prisoners a public voice.

The main plaintiff in the lawsuit, Chandra Bozelko, of Orange, Connecticut, said she was promised $1,400 for her contributions to the book, “You Don’t Know Me: The Incarcerated Women of York Prison Voice Their Truths,” which had been set for release next year.

Correction Department spokeswoman Karen Martucci said in a statement Monday that the writing program at the York Correction Institution, the state’s women’s prison, has been suspended while the agency investigates.

“In an effort to ensure that offenders have provided consent to having their written work shared publicly, the agency is reviewing its practices and recommending improvements in hopes of avoiding any future misunderstandings,” she said.

Lamb declined to discuss details of the case Monday, but in an email to The Associated Press indicated the book likely won’t be released.

“The saddest part of this whole thing is that twelve writers who worked very hard and deserve to be heard have had their voices silenced because of allegations which, in my opinion, are without merit,” he wrote.

Lamb, who lives in Mansfield, Connecticut, burst onto the literary scene in 1996 when Oprah Winfrey selected his novel “She’s Come Undone” for her book club and it became a bestseller.

Since 1999, he has run the writing workshop for inmates at the York prison, where he edited two other books containing their essays, “Couldn’t Keep It to Myself: Testimonies from Our Imprisoned Sisters” and “I’ll Fly Away: Further Testimonies from the Women of York Prison.”

Bozelko, who served six years in connection with an identity theft case, is now a freelance writer and vice president of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. She alleges in the lawsuit that she gave Lamb her essay, which deals with prison food, in September 2017.

In an email, Lamb praised Bozelko for her writing and said he would provide her information on payment after making a deal with a publisher, according to the lawsuit.

In May 2018, Lamb informed the writers that he sold the book and that they would be getting about $1,400 apiece, according to the lawsuit.

Bozelko said she later made several inquiries to Lamb about getting a contract for her work on “You Don’t Know Me,” but a deal was never made, the lawsuit says. An inmate also criticizes Lamb’s editing in the lawsuit, accusing him of adding inaccuracies.

Lamb has said he plans to donate any royalties generated by the book to the state victim’s advocate office and a college education program for Connecticut inmates.

Lamb’s lawyer, Joette Katz, a former state Supreme Court justice and former state child welfare commissioner, called it a classic case of “no good deed goes unpunished.”

She asked a judge Friday to toss the lawsuit.

Lamb wrote he plans to continue with the program “if/when” the suspension is lifted.

“The purpose of the program is to give our students the opportunity to draft, revise, and share their rehabilitative writing and offer constructive feedback to the other writers in the class,” he wrote. “Publication is a by-product of the program, not the reason it exists.”

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