The Santa Cruz Poetry Project began as the legacy project of Ellen Bass while she was Poet Laureate of Santa Cruz County. Since its inception, the program has facilitated workshops throughout the county and with your help will continue changing the lives of justice-involved men and women one word, one poem at a time. Co-founder Nancy Miller Gomez has been instrumental in keeping the program vital in the Santa Cruz County jail system and organizing fund raisers. Co-directors Deborah Culmer and Renee Winter keep the day-to-day operations going, teaching classes and coordinating new volunteers.

We have volunteer instructors conducting classes at the Blaine Street women's facility, and the Rehabilitation and Re-Entry men's facility near Watsonville, CA. Besides teaching intensive classes in creative writing, we also host Poetry Jams for the participants, and publish anthologies every year. 

The William James Association, a 501c3 non-profit, is the fiscal sponsor of The Santa Cruz Poetry Project.


We are also grateful for the ongoing support of the Arts Council Santa Cruz

Visit our Facebook page to keep up with current events! 


Many participants have said they intend to continue writing and studying poetry after their release. One participant had his work published in a national journal, another had essays published in Catamaran. Another participant who only had a third grade education said he developed the confidence to sign up for classes at a junior college. Another was so deeply moved he wanted to know how he could give his children “poetry lessons” so he could share this deep experience with them. In July 2021, several of the students submitted poetry to be included in a week-long visual arts and spoken word festival in Lincoln City OR, "For the Seventh Generation." The poems included are highlighted in our latest anthology.

Please consider donating your time and/or treasure so we can continue this invaluable work with our justice-involved brothers and sisters. Your dollars would go toward teaching materials, paid teaching positions, and anthology printing costs. Your time would go toward teaching classes, or substituting for our regular staff of volunteers and paid teaching artists.