Montana Public Radio

Free Verse: Voices From Montana's Juvenile Detention Centers

Apr 9, 2020


Free Verse teaches literature and creative writing in juvenile halls across Montana. In this interview, Executive Director Claire Compton and Teachers Nicole Gomez and Taylor White invite listeners into the raw and heartfelt expressions of youth in detention. We discuss oppression and visibility as well as inevitable moments of hope and humor. According to Free Verse, “Our goal is to one day have teachers in every hall in Montana. Our dream is to shut down our organization because there are no halls left.” 

Commissary Notes

To hear a conversation with Claire Compton, Nicole Gomez and Taylor White about the Free Verse Project: Voices from Montana's Juvenile Detention Centers, click the link above or subscribe to our podcast.

About Free Verse Project and the Pulbications:

Free Verse was founded in 2014 by four MFA students at the University of Montana who began teaching summer creative writing classes at the Missoula County Juvenile Detention Center. Free Verse is now sponsored by the Missoula Writing Collaborative, publishes student work with the Beat Within, has teachers in Billings, Missoula, and Miles City, and partners with teachers and organizations across Montana.

We are empowering youth incarcerated across Montana to gain agency over their own narrative and to discover their capacity for creativity, empathy, and engagement in the classroom through lessons in literature and creative writing.

"I Am Montana: Student Refletions on Identity and Place"

In the autumn of 2018, the I Am Montana project held writing workshops in juvenile detention centers and high schools in three cities across our state. Led by cultural leaders and writers-in-residency, these workshops aimed to provide students with a platform to make their voices heard, their stories acknowledged, and their perspectives recognized as vital in the greater discussion of what it means to be a Montana. Find it here.

Commissary Notes:  A Special Issue Featuring the Writing and Artwork of Montana's Incarcerated Youth:

This special issue is a collaboration between CutBank Books and the Free Verse Writing Project, an organization founded by MFA students at the University of Montana in 2014. Sponsored by the Missoula Writing Collaborative, Free Verse teaches literature and creative writing classes in juvenile detention centers across Montana. Proceeds from the sale of Commissary Notes will be used to provide copies of this publication to Free Verse and their students. Read excerpts and order your copy here.

About the Staff:

Claire Compton 

Claire Compton

Claire Compton graduated from the University of Montana where she studied Creative Writing and Literature and the Environment.  In addition to her work with Free Verse in the classroom and in the office, she is pursuing an MA in English Teaching at the University of Montana.

Nicole Gomez
Credit Nicole Gomez

  Niole Gomez

Nicole Gomez is the Editor-in-Chief of CutBank Literary Magazine and an MFA candidate in fiction at the University of Montana. She has her B.A. in International Relations from Stanford University and has been a teacher with Free Verse for two years. 

Taylor White

Taylor White
Credit Taylor White

Taylor is a writer who cultivates creative ways to shed light on stories often overlooked. A reformed Texan, she moved West to pursue a Masters degree in Creative Writing from the University of Montana and now works as Grants Manager/Development Coordinator for Youth Homes. Through Free Verse Writing Project, Taylor has taught literature and creative writing in juvenile halls and correctional facilities across Montana. In her free time, Taylor roams on her cross country skis and wrestles her own writing projects.