Prison Shakespeare Programs Have Dramatic Impact on Inmates

By Christopher Zoukis Prison might be the last place you would expect to see a great performance of Shakespeare. But for more than a decade, Marin Shakespeare Company in California has taught Shakespeare in several prisons, and to rave reviews.

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The Art of Michael Skakel

By Dianne Frazee-Walker

53-year-old Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel is now a free man. Skakel was released from prison in November, 2013 after over a decade stint for allegedly murdering his 15-year old Greenwhich, Connecticut neighbor, Martha Moxley in 1975. Skakel’s freedom resulted from a judge ruling that his attorney was negligent during his murder trial.  Michael Skakel / Photo courtesy abcnews.go.com

Skakel did not let any grass grow under his feet during his incarceration. In fact, Mr. Skakel discovered a hidden talent to fill his time behind bars. He was a prolific contributor to Connecticut’s Prison Arts Program.

Mr. Skakel took advantage of his situation and turned his sentence into an artist’s dream. He had one benefit most artists would envy: Abundant time to experiment with art.

Mr. Skakel’s artistic ability evolved from stick figures on the outside world to unique expressions of his imagination on the inside world.      

Jeff Greene, 45, was Mr. Skakel’s art instructor in prison and is the director of Connecticut’s Prison Arts Program. Greene boasts that Skakel produced “hundreds of artworks” during his incarceration. At least 18 of Mr. Skakel’s works have appeared in shows that Mr. Greene curates to bring inmate art to the attention of the outside world.

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From The Inside Out

By Dianne Frazee-Walker

Before the painting program was adopted into the prison system in 1994, the only art displayed inside America’s correctional institutions was graffiti.  Photo courtesy easternstate.org

Today the legacy of inspirational expressions by inmates lives on.

William Borden, a former inmate walks through the narrow hallways of Eastern State Prison located in Philadelphia. Borden recalls the barbaric atmosphere of the prison when he first arrived for a brief sentence in 1967.

The medieval dungeon style penitentiary has gone through a transformation since the time it depicted a punitive environment that inmates feared. The prison has been converted into a museum.

Hand painted milieus now embellish the walls of prisons throughout the country that once confined prisoners who resided the buildings as punishment for their deviant crimes. Provincial cityscapes both conventional and fantasy decorate visiting rooms. Photographs of inmates are inserted into the scenery as mementos for family and friends.

Filmmaker, David Adler is a collector of selected art work of the outside created on the inside. Adler is sharing with the public his unique collection through November 30, 2013 at Eastern State Penitentiary, the museum that was once a prison. Adler’s collection is appropriately named “Visions of the Free World.” The museum is visited by everyone, from art enthusiasts to former guards and inmates.

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PRISON EDUCATION: STUDENT FICTION

Like the Back of My Hand

By Charles Burdell (a pseudonym at the author’s request)

I am immortal. At least I think I am, in theory. I’m standing on the small promontory, pondering this idea perhaps for the thousandth time and trying to enjoy the sensations: The sound of the waves breaking below, the smell and taste of the salty air, the feel of the ocean breeze on my face and in my hair, and the vibrant mix of reds, blues, greens, and violets that fill the sky as the sun sets behind the ocean. I come here often. I have not, as of yet, found the courage to throw myself down onto the rocks below.  Image courtesy of bedfordstmartins.com

I don’t mean to give the impression that the life I lead is somehow unsatisfactory, quite the opposite. I am the envy of most any man: Rich and powerful beyond imagination, with a wife who is beautiful, intelligent, and caters to my every whim; my mistress who is even more beautiful still, and even more compliant; and a multitude of servants to provide anything my wife or mistress cannot. My home and the surrounding estate are so vast that neither can be fully explored in less than a day’s time and both have a full-time staff devoted solely to their upkeep. I own a fleet of cars, a private jet, several boats, and even a helicopter along with the various crews, pilots, chauffeurs, and other attendants that are required to maintain and operate them all.

Even if my hypothetical immortality should prove true, I am not indestructible, this I am fairly certain of – as if I can be certain of anything anymore. I look down again at the ocean below me. Looking up and down the shoreline from the small marina dotted with various water craft to the forested hills that encompass my estate, I find nothing that is not mine, for I am truly Master of all that I see. I have attempted to become intimately familiar with my surroundings in the time that I have resided here: They are just as familiar as the back of my hand, if you will.

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Knitting Behind Bars

Tattooed prisoners sitting in the Pre-Release Unit in Jessup, Maryland gather together weekly for the knitting class. What? Male prisoners knitting while incarcerated? What a great visual.

67 year old Lynn Zwerling, founder of Knitting Behind Bars, has found that her passion for knitting and the quiet meditative state that it brings to the knitter was the perfect hobby to bring to male prisoners who suffered from lack of focus, control and anger.

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The Prison Arts Coalition

Creating art, in whatever medium, can be a tremendous healing process for inmates incarcerated in prison. Art can help people express themselves – express their anger, hurt, fear and hope. 

In 2008, The Prison Arts Coalition was created to form a network of people who are creating art in and around the American prison system. The coalition represents a consortium of artists and arts organizations who are active and working in the field of art and prison. 

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Oregon Prison Art

Giving incarcerated inmates a chance to express themselves through art can be a very healing opportunity for prisoners, and often this healing through art can give these prisoners a second chance at life and the possibility of reduced rates of recidivism. 

Artist/prisoners, both men and women, incarcerated throughout the Oregon prison system, create art and through the Oregon Prison Art program – these works of art go on public exhibits throughout the community. And the community has received these works with warm and welcome arms. 

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Prison Letter Envelopes as Art: A Fundraiser

The art of letter writing and sending out mail with a beautiful stamp may be a bit old-fashioned, yet is still a lovely way to communicate. 

The Prison Library Project is honoring this tradition by having a mail art exhibition on October 2012 and is inviting inmates, families and those who look to improve the lives of incarcerated friends and family to participate in this unique fundraiser. 

The show is titled Postmarked and was inspired by colorfully decorated envelopes from inmates across the country requesting books and dictionaries. These inmates use an envelope as a creative canvas to share their art. 

Postmarked is using the show as a way to remember and reconnect with the magic of mail and lovely postage stamps. The show also is helping the prison population, often an unheard group, share their art in the only medium that they can – with envelope, letter and pen. 

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Arts in Prison, Inc. A Comprehensive Arts in Corrections Program

Creating art, using several types of medium, can have a profound impact on the rehabilitative process for  prisoners.

The Arts in Prison Program, throughout several prisons in Kansas and Missouri, create life changing programs for prisoners – using art.

The Arts in Prison program believes that the practice of art in a group setting can greatly enhance positive thinking habits and and behaviors for prisoners and that these attitudes and self-adjustments can help with successful re-entry into society. 

The mission statement of the Arts in Prison program is to: provide educational and personal growth opportunities through the arts for inmates, volunteers and community to motivate and inspire positive change. This program is designed to induce positive behavioral changes in inmates – this is very profound – as positive change can change imprisoned people into successful, participating, contributing  members of the community that they will be released into. 

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