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Victor Hassine Memorial Scholarship


Joanna Heaney

Joanna Heaney is an undergraduate in the honors program at American University majoring in Public Communication with a minor in Law and Society. Heaney has a deep and abiding interest in the notions of liberty, justice, and individual choice; these subjects inform her studies, her creative writing, and her commitment to BleakHouse Publishing, which has as part of its core mission offering a voice to those rendered voiceless in our society, notably by the justice system. Heaney is the author of several poems, including the award-winning poem on the death penalty, “Too Little, Too Late,” published in BleakHouse Review. Heaney is also the founding editor and chief voice of the BleakHouse Blog, The Bare Lightbulb, which now has over 1900 followers and a growing cadre of regular contributors, all American University students. Beyond her academic and creative talents, Heaney has remarkable leadership and organizational skills, which led to her selection as Chief Operating Officer for BleakHouse Publishing. This demanding administration and leadership position entails responsibility for all matters relating to the daily operation of the press as well as strategic planning relating to the mission of the press. Heaney exemplifies the ideal Victor Hassine Memorial Scholar, who uses “creative work…to educate the public on the pressing issues affecting the criminal justice system and the greater society.”


Nora Kirk

Nora Kirk is an American University undergraduate driven by a passion for criminal justice reform. As Chief Development Officer at BleakHouse Publishing, Kirk works to expand the voice of prisoners and to bring their creative writing and art to the attention of a broad public audience. To achieve this goal—at the heart of the BleakHouse mission and in the spirit of Hassine Award—Kirk coordinates all media and promotional activities for BleakHouse Publishing, and works to develop strategic partnerships and joint ventures with DC social justice organizations. Notable among Kirk’s achievements in this respect is a partnering with Free Minds Book Club and Writing Workshop to release Up the River, a BleakHouse book released to rave reviews. Kirk has also developed a partnership with the Safe Streets Arts Foundation, an organization that reaches thousands of prisoners across the country. This partnership has allowed BleakHouse to increase the number of prisoners’ works the press is able to publish, which in turn increases the reach of the press into the prison system and the lives of prisoners. Kirk exemplifies the ideal Victor Hassine Memorial Scholar, who uses "creative work…to educate the public on the pressing issues affecting the criminal justice system and the greater society."



Charles Huckelbury

Charles Huckelbury served thirty-eight consecutive years in maximum security prisons before being paroled in 2012. A graduate of Ohio University and New England College, he is a widely published writer with two books of poetry, Distant Thunder and Tales from the Purple Penguin. His fiction and nonfiction have won four awards from the prestigious PEN America organization. He has also received awards from BleakHouse Publishing and been inducted into the Distinguished Writers and Authors Guild. A former instructor of writing and literature, his poetry has appeared in the Northern New England Review, The Poets' Touchstone, and Bonzer. He is an associate editor of The Journal of Prisoners on Prisons, a senior consulting editor for BleakHouse Publishing, and the editor of Huck's Picks, the official newsletter for the Prisons Foundation in Washington, DC.


Rachel Ternes

Rachel Ternes is a sophomore at American University majoring in psychology and minoring in French and studio arts. She is an artist and consulting editor for BleakHouse Publishing. Three of her illustrations were published in the 2012 issue of the BleakHouse Review, one illustration earning the 2012 Tacenda Literary Award for Best Artwork. She illustrated Robert Johnson’s short story, Cell Buddy, and will be illustrating Johnson’s novel, Miller’s Revenge. Her artwork has been published in American University’s literary magazine, AmLit, every semester that she has attended American, and has been awarded an honorable mention and a Best in Show. Ternes’ is intent on using her artistic talents to pursue social justice, which she does through her role as communication director of American University’s United Methodist-Protestant Community and her roles with BleakHouse Publishing.



Claire Callahan

Claire Callahan is a gifted and versatile undergraduate student majoring in Justice, Law and Society at American University. Her record of achievement combines near perfect grades, fluency in French (the basis of a prestigious award), a thorough grounding in the humanities as well as law and justice, research interests that span national and international issues, excellence in dance, and a talent for writing that is at once precise and elegant. Callahan is the author of an original and thought-provoking short story on crime and punishment, entitled "Why the Corrida," which examines the ceremony of the criminal trial process by likening it to the ritual and violence found in the bullfight. The story is slated to be the lead entry in this year's BleakHouse Review. Callahan has been selected as the next editor-in-chief of Tacenda Literary Magazine.


Carla Mavaddat

Carla Mavaddat is the Assistant Art Director and Curator for BleakHouse Publishing and an undergraduate student majoring in Political Science at McGill University. Mavaddat has a passion for photography and design, along with a longstanding interest in human rights and social justice. Her creative work has appeared in several venues, including Adore Noir, a fine arts magazine that featured her photography in a poem-photo collage entitled "Still Life On Gurney." Mavaddat served as Guest Editor and Designer for the 2011 issue of the online literary magazine, BleakHouse Review, which showcased her distinctive noire aesthetic; she is presently at work on the 2012 issue of the Review. Her poem, "Cirque du Soleil," will appear in the 2012 issue of Tacenda Literary Magazine.



Sonia Tabriz

Sonia Tabriz is a merit scholar and J.D. candidate at The George Washington University Law School. She is the Managing Editor of BleakHouse Publishing. Tabriz is best known for her award-winning works of fiction, including poetry and short stories, as well as her legal commentaries. She also co-edited and contributed to Lethal Rejection: Stories on Crime and Punishment (Carolina Academic Press, 2009) and Life Without Parole: Living and Dying in Prison Today (Oxford University Press 5th Ed., 2011). In her roles as a GW Law Writing Fellow and member of the Public Contract Law Journal, Tabriz will continue to showcase her skills as a writer and editor.


Liz Calka

Liz Calka is an award-winning designer and photographer living and working in Washington, DC. She is the Art Director of BleakHouse Publishing, where she has created layout and cover designs for a number of publications including books and magazines. Liz earned her Bachelor of Arts from American University in Visual Media and Graphic Design. She has varied experience in visual media ranging from photojournalism to exhibition design. Liz believes in the power of visual media as a catalyst for social change, including reforms to the criminal justice system, and strives to create work that has a positive impact on the world around her.



The first recipients of this award, each receiving a $500 stipend, are Shirin Karimi and Chris Miller, honors students at American University with a deep commitment to creative work in service of criminal justice reform.

Shirin Karimi

Shirin Karimi is an award-winning honors student majoring in Literature and pursuing the Pre-Medical Program. She is a contributing editor for BleakHouse Publishing, the incoming Editor in Chief of Tacenda Literary Magazine, the co-editor for the Catalyst science magazine, and a volunteer at Georgetown University Hospital. She is presently working on a book of poems dealing with suffering and loss in the justice system, especially in prisons, and in life generally.


Chris Miller

Chris Miller is an award-winning writer specializing in poetry and nonfiction prose. He maintains a strong interest in prison reform and often uses writing as a means to advocate for those whose voices remain unheard. Miller is currently a senior at American University’s School of Public Affairs, double majoring in Political Science and Law & Society. Recently he edited and introduced an anthology of poetry entitled A Zoo Near You. Additionally, Miller has worked as a research intern for the DC Public Defender Service and the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project. He hopes to become a criminal defense attorney.


The Victor Hassine Memorial Scholarship is given annually to one or more American University students or alumni who use creative work – literary and visual art, or some combination thereof – to educate the public on the pressing issues affecting the criminal justice system and the greater society. This award honors the memory of Victor Hassine, who tragically took his life after 27 long years of confinement in Pennsylvania prisons. During those years, Victor used his creative talent to produce a host of writings on crime and punishment, both fiction and non-fiction. Victor believed that much of the injustice in the world, especially as seen in our prisons, stemmed from ignorance. He wrote to dispel that ignorance, to educate and inform, and to move others to action.

Victor Hassine's legacy lives on in his writings, most particularly his classic work of social science, Life Without Parole: Living and Dying in Prison Today, published by Oxford University Press. Each year, the primary editor of Life Without Parole, Robert Johnson, Professor of Justice, Law and Society at American University, in consultation with Sonia Tabriz, co-editor of the book and a distinguished honors alumnus of American University, will select one or more deserving American University students or alumni for the scholarship, which has been generously funded by the Hassine family. We hope that the Victor Hassine Memorial Scholarship will encourage a new generation of young men and women to produce original works on crime and punishment, and to use their talents in service of a more just and humane future.