The Power of the Pen

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The Power of the Pen

It is said that 'the pen is mightier than the sword'. Throughout history many important leaders have demonstrated that the power of writing is stronger than the tyranny of man. These men were often incarcerated for fighting for what they believed in. Heroes like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela are a few of many who fought injustice or unfair living conditions and made a difference in the lives of their fellow men by speaking out through their writings. Jimmy Santiago Baca is also a man who has been able to change lives through his works. His short story, Coming Into Language, demonstrates the immense power of writing to give not only faith and hope, but purpose, to both an individual and an entire community.

Although Jimmy Santiago Baca was illiterate and came from humble origins, he not only was able to teach himself to read and write while in prison, but ultimately became a remarkable poet with insight into the living conditions of the Apache, of the Chicanos and of America’s poorest citizens.

“Through language I was free. I could respond, escape, indulge; embrace or reject the earth or the cosmos. I was launched on an endless journey without boundaries or rules, in which I could salvage the floating fragments of my past, or be born anew in the spontaneous ignition of understanding some heretofore concealed aspect of myself.” (Baca)

Since leaving prison in 1979, Jimmy Santiago Baca has made a difference in the lives of countless people throughout the United States. "Baca has devoted his post-prison life to writing and teaching others who are overcoming hardship. His themes include American Southwest barrios, addiction, injustice, education, community, love and beyond. He has conducted hundreds of writing workshops in prisons, community centers, libraries, and universities throughout the country." (

Although Jimmy Santiago Baca’s story is unlike those of freedom fighters of the twentieth century, it is important to note that many similarities exist. Baca was thrown in jail with nothing. He had no way to fight the unjust accusations that were made against him and was locked behind bars for decades. He was unable to express himself because he lacked the education and the funding to do so. Because he wanted to earn his GED, Baca was constantly tortured, both mentally and physically, to make him bend to the rules of the system. “There were beatings, shock therapy, intimidation” (Baca 38). Although the guards in prison tried to break him, Baca stayed strong throughout. The reason that he was able to endure years of incarceration and persecution was that he found salvation through reading and writing poetry. Coming Into Language emphasizes the power of the pen for an ordinary man who is forced to fight for his dignity and free will with extraordinary courage. Baca was able to teach himself the skills that he would later put to use helping others like him.

There are many examples of other great men who were wrongly incarcerated and who have used their power of persuasion through writing and non-violent resistance as a way to better not only their own situation, but more importantly the condition of their people as a whole. An excellent example of these freedom fighters was Mahatma Gandhi. He lived in India during the time of the British Raj and was indignant about the occupation of his homeland by a foreign nation. Gandhi was concerned about the rights of his fellow countrymen, including women’s rights and the rights of those who were called ‘untouchables’; people of the lowest caste who had no rights in the eyes of traditional Indian law. He pioneered a satyagraha, which is a resistance to tyranny through mass civil disobedience. The most important element of this philosophy was ahimsa, or non-violent resistance. He began by writing articles in the paper while living in South Africa. When he returned to India in 1921, he...
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