Recognizing exceptional creative work and insights into the criminal justice system
by Alexa Kelly
Charles Huckelbury is an ex-convict. He is also a husband, a dreamer, a miniature-poodle owner, and an exceptional poet. We were there to hear him, to award him. We awarded him as we awarded so many artists who advance awareness of criminal justice. On a quiet Thursday evening, BleakHouse Publishing hosted its annual awards ceremony.
Professor Robert Johnson presenting Charles Huckelbury with the “Best Book” award.
The awards ceremony began with a reading from Charles Huckelbury, the author of Distant Thunder. When Huckelbury was 27 years old, he was sentenced to 38 years in a maximum security prison for murder. While in prison, he developed his creative writing talents, going on to teach English literature and win numerous writing awards. Distant Thunder is his collection of powerful poems that blend humor, wistfulness, and hope. At the ceremony, Huckelbury reflected on the quirks and difficulties of adjusting to life outside prison. His wife, Susan Nagelsen, also present at the ceremony, often encourages him to slow down when he eats – in prison, eating is for fuel; it is not a social occasion.
Huckelbury was awarded “Best Book” for Distant Thunder. He also received the Victor Hassine Memorial Scholarship, for works that educate the public on the pressing issues affecting the criminal justice system and society at large. This award honors the memory of Victor Hassine, who tragically took his life after 27 long years of confinement, and is accompanied by a five hundred dollar stipend, courtesy of the Hassine family.
“Best Poem” went to “Home” by Sarah Bousquet and to “Accommodations” by Cienna Breen. The audience heard Sarah’s passionate reading of her award-winning poem, a chilling piece on murder and family. Joanna Heaney received Honorable Mention for her poem “Too Little, Too Late” and presented it with sarcastic flair. Other award categories included Short Story, Play, Essay, Distinguished Writers and Artists Guild and BleakHouse Fellow.
The Social Justice Advocacy Award went to Talila Lewis, founder of Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of the Deaf (HEARD). Lewis accepted her award without acknowledging her own achievements. Instead, she spoke of the need for change in the justice system and the need to advance the rights of disabled inmates.
Talila Lewis, founder of D.C. HEARD, accepting the Social Justice Advocacy Award.
Managing Editor Sonia Tabriz delivered closing remarks. She spoke of how BleakHouse and its founder Dr. Robert Johnson have made an indelible imprint on her life. In its awards ceremony, BleakHouse honored those who speak out for the voiceless.
Professor Robert Johnson and Managing Editor, Sonia Tabriz.
Distant Thunder is available for purchase on Amazon.com