Why I Write?

By Cassandra D. Little, PhD, MSW

One writes out of one thing-one’s own experience everything depends on how relentlessly one forces from this experience the last drop, sweet or bitter it can possibly give.  - James Baldwin

Growing up in the inner city of East Palo Alto, California and being surrounded by drugs, violence, and poverty, reading and writing offered me the opportunity to escape my reality and dream of a world that I wanted to live in. Poetry and writing have always been my way of expressing my anger, frustrations, and ideals of a loving creative world.


In 2013 the trajectory of my life and that of my son, was changed drastically when I was indicted on 38 counts of health care fraud related to my then foster care agency, Ujima Youth Services, in Reno. After my indictment I started blogging about my internal process on my blog, The Felonious PhD. Being able to blog and write about my journey through the criminal justice system kept me sane and brave, as I prepared to self-surrender to the Bureau of Prisons in Victorville, California. During my 23 months of incarceration in a federal prison, my reading and writing once again provided me therapy and solace, keeping me whole, sane, and alive while I endured one the most troubling and challenging periods of my life.  

Upon my release from prison, I desperately needed to find a way to re-enter my community and reconnect with those who were tethered to me. I wanted a creative space to share my story and use the power of poetry as my way of sharing my experience. The Nevada Humanities Literary Crawl provided me a stage to re-engage with my community after I returned home from being incarcerated. It was perfect timing when Dr. Susan Chandler invited me to participate in the Prison Writers session at the 2017 Literary Crawl and share some of my poetry.  

I was amazed at the number of participants who attended our Literary Crawl session. I loved being able to answer very critical questions regarding mass incarceration, mass liberation, and re-entry in our Reno, Nevada community. By sharing my poetry from my future book, I am Poetry: 23 Months of Artistic Confinement, with the participants I was able to inform, educate, and amplify the voices of women and mothers who have been impacted by the criminal justice system.  

The Nevada Humanities Literary Crawl reminded me that words and poetry are the perfect conduits for bringing together individuals, communities, and society—despite politics, race, culture, sexuality, or gender identity.  I am forever grateful for the Nevada Humanities Literary Crawl.  

Screen Shot 2018-12-10 at 3.38.01 PM.png

Cassandra Little has been writing poetry and essays since grade school. She studied criminal justice at California State Fullerton and California Baptist University. She earned a master’s degree in social work and her doctorate in counseling from the University Nevada, Reno. For over 28 years she worked professionally in child welfare. In 2013, the trajectory of her life changed drastically when she was indicted and incarcerated for 33 months for health care fraud and money laundering; she served 23 of those months in a federal prison. During her incarceration, her love for writing poetry and writing is what kept her whole, sane, and alive. Cassandra is participating in the “Writing Behind Bars” panel at the 2018 Nevada Humanities Literary Crawl on September 15 in Reno.

Cheyanne TreadwayThomas