Throughout the month of June, “LETTERS FROM SOME DISTANT PLACE” — a visual art and creative writing exhibition featuring work by juniors and seniors from Hudson High School is on display in the community room at the new Hudson Area Library. The exhibition is the culmination of a five-month investigative history workshop at the High School, facilitated by Prison Public Memory Project’s Hudson Site coordinator, Brian Buckley, and Hudson Community Schools Writing Center coordinator, Gail Wheeler. Students explored personal histories of girls incarcerated at the NYS Training School for Girls, a juvenile prison that operated from 1904 until 1975 just a mile south of Hudson, NY’s town center, on the site that is currently the Hudson Correctional Facility.
“There was so much I didn't know about Hudson,” Ingrid Kildiss, a student in the workshop, said, “I didn't even know that we had a Girls’ Training School until [this] program.” Kildiss and her peers in the workshop were among the first readers to interpret a collection of letters, telegrams, photographs, and intake forms from the Training School that were found in a garage sale in 2012 by a local Hudson, NY business owner. The documents represent fragments of the lives of girls incarcerated in Hudson nearly a century ago.
The students had the opportunity to cut and paste photocopied images and text from archival documents into their own poetry and visual art for a zine publication. They read their poetry pieces aloud at the opening reception for the exhibit on May 26th. “I was so proud to observe and listen to our Hudson City School District students share what they learned from the Prison Public Memory Project,” said Dr. Maria Suttmeier, Superintendent for the School District, who was in attendance. "The students were clearly moved by the stories they uncovered. They brought the young girls to life through their powerful poetry and images.”
Some students learned how to conduct oral history interviews and use professional software to edit the audio from these interviews into short narratives. They conducted oral histories with members of the community who remembered the Training School when it was still open. Kildiss interviewed Columbia County Supervisor William Hughes, who grew up in Hudson and, during his interview, recalled interacting with some of the girls who were incarcerated at the Training School. “I had a wonderful time interviewing Mr. Hughes,” said Kildiss, “I'm very grateful to have had the chance to not only get his story, but learn more about Hudson.”
Following the live reading at the library, students fielded questions from the audience about their experience doing hands-on, investigative history and how they feel it has affected their plans for the future. Hudson HS Senior Daniel Gelles, another workshop participant, said, “I went from not knowing what an oral history was to wanting to conduct more in the near future. It’s clear that being a part of this workshop has really opened up a new avenue in life for me.”
"The PPMP program at Hudson High School has engaged students in a process to which they are not ordinarily exposed,” said Gail Wheeler, a co-facilitator of the workshop, “It proves, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we are explorers by nature, and learning exceeds all expectations when we are allowed to learn through curiosity and exploration.”