This is a networking/storytelling site for people who facilitate performance work with prison inmates. The purpose of this site is to share information about our work, so that we may learn from and support each other as practitioners, and so that we can serve as a resource for others who are interested in this work.
The Gang recognizes and promotes the fact that the Arts have the power to effect change in the lives of people and thereby can create change in society. As part of our education work, we propose to bring theater workshops, led by professional actors, into adult correction facilities. The Gang’s experienced team of artists and facilitators work with a diverse range of groups including young people at risk of offending, adult drug users and adult prisoners.
Art and culture in prison is a project funded by the European Union within the framework of the Culture Programme 2007-2013. It is promoted by the Tuscany Region, Fondazione Michelucci (project leader), The Manchester College, Prison Arts Foundation, Berliner Literarische Aktion, Departament de Justícia – Generalitat de Catalunja.
Art and culture in prison includes fostering knowledge and collaboration between the cultural professionals who work in European prisons; the circulation within a European context of theatre, music, literary and artistic performances implemented in the various countries; the opening of artistic and cultural experiences to society at large and shows created in the difficult conditions of a prison context.
Arts in Prison provides life changing programs, using art as a medium, in prisons and detention centers in Kansas and Missouri so that our participants are better equipped to be successful when they re-enter our communities.
Practicing art in a group setting fosters personal characteristics which can reduce risk in the areas of leisure/recreation and attitude, 2 of the 10 needs areas of concern for re-entering offenders. Having positive, safe activities to pass the time supports positive thinking habits and behaviors. Positive thinking can interrupt patterns of criminal behaviors. Arts in Prison’s goals of increased self awareness, improved ability to work collaboratively, increased ability to practice empathy and increased cognitive thinking. Create a new reality for inmates as they prepare to return home.
One of our most profound collaborations has been with women in prison. Since 2002, Avodah has led annual week-long residencies and workshops in women’s correctional institutions in Connecticut, Delaware, and New York.
Kalliopeia Foundation created Beyond Prison to feature innovative correctional practices that transform suffering and social breakdown into opportunities for healing and change. As a nation we are socially, culturally, and spiritually connected to those we’ve imprisoned. We believe that the transformative programs featured here in Beyond Prison hold a key to our future and demonstrate what is possible in prison reform.
We welcome you to the COLECTIVO SUSTENTO (SUSTENANCE COLLECTIVE) website. Our collective was founded in September 2012 in Santiago-Chile, and is a fusion of long-term community theatre experiences within and outside prisons. In an ongoing learning process, we are creating a shared future, motivated by: community theatre and arts, sustainability and social justice.
Cultural Odyssey’s mission is to support the artistic work and vision of Rhodessa Jones andIris Ackamoor, as well as an ancillary group of emerging and established performing artists. To implement its mission, Cultural Odyssey locally premieres the original productions, presents the Cultural Odyssey Performance Series, offers free and low cost technical assistance, and conducts residencies and national and international tours. As well, it operates a community-based program entitled, The Medea Project: Theater for Incarcerated Women that serves female inmates, ex-inmates, HIV Positive women, and female community participants. In addition, the company conducts jazz programming spearheaded by the Idris Ackamoor Ensemble targeting youth and the general public.
Daughters of the Floating Brothel is a prison theatre project being undertaken by artists in collaboration with women currently and formerly imprisoned in Queensland, Australia. The project uses live performance and audio recording to explore the experience of women prisoners through the lens of history.
DRUMBEAT is currently being used in correctional facilities in several states in Australia. These include both adult and juvenile facilities, and with male & female prisoners.
In adult prison groups the program has been adapted to increase the Cognitive Behavioural Element as participants became more comfortable discussing the relationship themes of the program. These sessions are commonly two hours in length, with an even distribution of talking and drumming.
DRUMBEAT has been used to engage those prisoners who were refusing mainstream education programs, and was also successful at integrating prisoners ostracised by others, including sex offenders.
Fine Cell Work is a social enterprise that teaches needlework to prison inmates and sells their products. The prisoners do the work when they are locked in their cells, and the earnings give them hope, skills and independence.
Our mission is to rehabilitate prisoners by giving them the opportunity to earn and save money and the chance to reflect on and rebuild their lives through craft and achievement. Prisoners do Fine Cell Work for an average of 3 years: the benefits can therefore be profound.
Geese Theatre Company is a team of actors and group workers who present interactive drama and conduct workshops, staff training and consultation within the Criminal Justice System. The company has an international reputation for innovative work with offenders and youth at risk and since 1987 has worked in more than 150 custodial institutions and with 42 probation areas. During this time, we have worked with more than 150,000 offenders and 30,000 other individuals.
We work internationally with:
- offenders in prison, on probation, or in mental health settings
- young people who are seen to be at risk of offending and who have offended
- professionals who work with these client groups
We provide a continually developing portfolio which includes:
- issue based performances
- groupwork inputs into a range of probation, prison, secure hospital and youth offending programmes
- workshops and residencies
- staff training events
- performances for Criminal Justice conferences
The company believes that drama is a powerful and effective vehicle for inviting individuals to examine their own behaviour and as a catalyst for promoting personal development and change.
The Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program creates avenues for social change through education and civic engagement. By generating opportunities for incarcerated and college students to come together and learn in the same classroom, Inside-Out opens the door for people to gain an education that emphasizes collaborative learning and problem-solving.
Inside-Out brings people together to share learning experiences in which each person is continually reminded of his or her own humanity as stereotypes dissolve, layer after layer. Each interaction gives us the opportunity to encounter each other and to recognize differences and similarities in experiences, perspectives, and beliefs. By sustaining the practice of listening and seeing more deeply, Inside-Out creates a temporary but significant place for us to invite forth our own and others’ best selves and inspires us to create more such places in the world.
Insight-Out (IS0), provides services and self-development opportunities to prisoners and challenged youth and empowers them to positively transform their predicament.
Since 1997, the Insight Prison Project has been dedicated to reducing recidivism rates and improving public safety by conducting highly-effective in-prison rehabilitation programs that provide prisoners with the tools and life skills necessary to create durable change. Working in partnership with San Quentin State Prison, IPP conducts 19 weekly classes involving more than 200 prisoners. Our classes focus on preparing the men to become responsible and productive members of the community when they leave prison.
Through the proven strength of our community outreach programme, the London Shakespeare Workout (LSW) Prison Project aims to be of service both to the theatrical profession and to the broader community at large. By virtue of an ever burgeoning series of varied incentives, actors, film-makers alongside offenders and ex-offenders of all ages, genders, races, creeds, nationalities and orientations are given opportunities to further explore and develop skills of self-expression and jointly enhance confidence through the glorious balm which is Shakespeare’s language, as well as that of other major dramatic voices and thinkers and film-makers who have been inspired by the Bard throughout time.
The LCIW Drama Club
The LCIW (Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women) Drama Club was founded in 1996 by Kathy Randels, Artistic Director of ArtSpot Productions, through funding from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Regional Artists Project (RAP) grant. Now entering its 17th year, the Drama Club has been an important outlet for creative expression for over 100 inmates, and has performed for inmate audiences totaling well over 1000. In 2000, ArtSpot Productions invited Kumbuka African Drum and Dance Collective to introduce African dance and culture to the Drama Club. The program has proved to be a vital spiritual asset for the inmate population at LCIW.
In 2012, with support from Open Society Fund and The Emerging Philanthropists of New Orleans, we started The Graduates. (Several of the women who have done time at LCIW refer to the institution as “school,” so those who have been released are the “graduates.”) Our first project was a collaboration with some high school students from another ArtSpot program entitled “iROC” (Individuals Relating and Overcoming Conflict), operated in cooperation with Students at the Center and the P.E. Department at McMain High School in New Orleans. Six iROC girls interviewed four Graduates, including Sherral and Mona Lisa, and wrote pieces about their experiences with the criminal justice system that will be published by Students at the Center in an upcoming book.
The LCIW Drama Club and The Graduates are ensemble theater companies. Our performances often focus on healing of some kind, based on the personal needs and themes that come from the group. Much like Rage Within/Without, impulses for our performances come from an individual performer’s epiphany, trauma, or a story that is somehow stuck in them. Then we all bring our personal and cultural experiences to our rehearsals and explode the one story into a piece that hopefully touches our entire community. Themes for the Drama Club have included: racism, masks that we wear to protect ourselves, and women’s body images—our most recent production examines freedom.
The Medea Project is a production of Cultural Odyessu, which continues to develop original productions that demonstrate their vision of “ARTS AS SOCIAL ACTIVISM”. In 1989, on the basis of material developed while conducting classes at the San Francisco County Jail, Rhodessa Jones created “Big Butt Girls, Hard Headed Women”, a performance piece based on the lives of the incarcerated women she encountered. During the work’s creation, Jones and jail officials were made aware of issues that were specific to female inmates, such as guilt, depression, and self-loathing, which arose in response to feelings of failure in the face of community. These issues directly contribute to recidivism among female offenders. Based on this observation, Jones founded THE MEDEA PROJECT: THEATER FOR INCARCERATED WOMEN to explore whether an arts-based approach could help reduce the numbers of women returning to jail.
Some resources concerning arts programming in correctional settings complied by the Office for Accessibility at the National Endowment for the Arts.
Otisville Correctional Facility Theatre Group
Story-Art & Theatre Collaborative (SATC) focuses on studying, creating and performing theatre in its many manifestations. Our goal is to mount quality productions for the general population at Otisville Correctional Facility and invited guests, including readings, original plays, published scenes and monologues, poetry slams, spoken word performances, and dance recitals. To accomplish this, and to heighten the production values of our public performances, we conduct ongoing workshops in writing, acting, directing, technical theatre, dance, and other theatre skills.
Our aim is practical and transformative –– mining raw talent and building self-esteem by exposing participants to the rigors and rewards of a professional arts environment. Rather than compare themselves out, the men find a way in from the margins to which their lives have been consigned, discovering skills and abilities long dormant or never tapped, and identifying their own ideas and emotions with those of their characters, roles, and fellow performers. The results are prodigious–– artistry that demonstrates firsthand the essential relevance of individual feelings, thoughts, and right actions to one’s immediate community, and to the larger world.
Contact: Richard Hoehler firstname.lastname@example.org
ODAG is dedicated to making significant theatre that can transform the lives of men seeking to redeem their pasts and remake their futures.
Through collaborative processes of rehearsal and performance, men enhance their humanity, expand their imaginative and expressive capacities, and develop trust and confidence. Inhabiting complex and articulate characters in a supportive ensemble fosters introspection, critical dialogue, and social values that inspire men to contribute to a more just society and to pursue
more considered lives.
Outside the Wire is a social impact company that uses theater and a variety of other media to address pressing public health and social issues, such as combat-related psychological injury, end of life care, prison reform, political violence and torture, domestic violence, and the destigmatization of the treatment of substance abuse and addiction.
The Phoenix Players Theatre Group was founded in 2009 at Auburn Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison in Auburn New York, by a small group of incarcerated men dedicated to the idea that theatre work, combined with group inner healing work, is a true opportunity for them to connect and to become more fully human.
Pimlico Opera was founded in 1987 by Wasfi Kani OBE and is one of the leading small scale touring companies. There are two strands to its work: an autumn tour and an annual prison project.
Pimlico Opera spends 6 weeks a year working inside Her Majesty’s Prisons culminating in public performances in which inmates share the stage with professionals.
The first was Sweeney Todd with Wormwood Scrubs inmates serving life sentences (described by The Times as the coup de theatre of 1991) then West Side Story in HMP Wandsworth and the third, Guys & Dolls was the subject of a BBC documentary.
Besides the obvious educational and rehabilitative opportunities for prisoners, these annual events have become a focus for how prisons might better serve society and help prisoners to become good and useful members of the community. The company has taken more than 25,000 public into prison to witness these remarkable events and during the last decade has worked with close to one thousand prisoners. There is a full list of previous productions on this site.
Poetic Justice Project advances social justice by engaging formerly incarcerated youth and adults in arts education, mentoring and the creation of original theatre examining crime, punishment and redemption.
The Prison Arts Coalition is a network of those creating art in and around the criminal justice system. Share information and resources, and learn from others.
Founded in 1990 by Buzz Alexander, The Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP) collaborates with incarcerated adults, incarcerated youth, urban youth and the formerly incarcerated to strengthen our community through creative expression. Our process is guided by respect and a spirit of collaboration in which vulnerability, risk and improvisation lead to discovery. We make possible the spaces in which the voices and visions of the incarcerated can be expressed. Buzz Alexander Interview
For the past nineteen years, Prison Performing Arts has been engaging incarcerated men, women and youth in the performing arts. We promote learning through the arts, using the arts to provide an environment for self-discipline, commitment, and teamwork. Our goal is to help inmates become productive, creative, and law-abiding citizens, both within the institutions and in our communities when they are released. Blog
The Prison University Project is proud to publish OpenLine,an annual interdisciplinary journal of academic essays, visual art, poetry, fiction, and non fiction by students in the College Program at San Quentin.
Prometheus in Prison
Prometheus in Prison is an innovative project that presents readings of Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound as a catalyst for town hall discussions about the challenges of supervising and rehabilitating prisoners in both correctional facilities and in communities. This unique, participatory event is intended to promote healthy discussion between corrections officers, parole officers, social workers, food service workers, wardens and other corrections professionals, fostering compassion, morale, cooperation and understanding.
Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble’s Prison Project – founded in 2006 as the Arts in Community Enhancement project (ACE) – was the first Australian Shakespeare-in-prison initiative, and is still the only one to date. The program is also a trailblazer in its fusing of Shakespeare with Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed methodology.
RTA was founded in Sing Sing in 1996. Today, we work in five New York State prisons with innovative programs in theatre, dance, creative writing, voice, and visual art. RTA is dedicated to using the creative arts as a tool for social and cognitive transformation behind prison walls. RTA changes lives!
SPAN’s mission is to evolve a visible community for artist–led activity in Scotland, owning a shared understanding of what quality practice is in this sector presenting an informed and galvanized creative sector presence in the field of criminal justice.
That artists offer a vital opportunity to support learning, well being and self–expression to Scotland’s offenders.
That a connected arts community can strengthen the quality and impact of the artist placed in a criminal justice context.
To create an evolving network of artists and organisations working together to deliver arts provision in Scottish Prisons and to provide opportunities for these artists and organisations to develop further.
To promote cultural activity in prisons and advocate the link between art and learning across Prisons in Scotland.
To disseminate best practice happening in Scotland in an international forum and inform next practice in the field.
To provide opportunities for professional development across the sector.
To serve as a central and unique information hub signposting individuals and families affected by the criminal justice system to creative projects and relevant opportunities happening across the country through online resources.
Sisters Inside Inc. is an independent community organization, which exists to advocate for the human rights of women in the criminal justice system, and to address gaps in the services available to them. Sisters Inside work alongside women in prison in determining the best way to fulfill these roles.
Physical Theatre Behind Bars at the William Head Institution
SNAFU creates original live performances both collectively and through director-driven creation. We are inspired by Viewpoints, Butoh, found-object puppetry, storytelling, clown, ritual, fables, politics, children, history, and lore. Narrative and dramaturgy are very important to us, especially when working in abstraction.
SNAFU Dance Theatre is committed to providing accessible and affordable dance, theatre, and dance theatre.
For more than three decades Somebody’s Daughter Theatre (SDT) has been working with communities of the disadvantaged to produce high quality theatre, music and art. Working with women in prison and post release and marginalised young people, this unique company has used the arts as a driver to break intergenerational cycles of abuse, addiction and institutionalisation of the most disenfranchised in our society.
In 1985 Spoon began a four year poetry course at San Quentin State Prison led by writer and teacher Judith Tannenbaum who saw his talent and also became a friend and mentor. Prisoners, staff and poets from the outside began calling Spoon “poet”. He has won four awards from PEN American Center Prison Writing Program. He played Pozzo in the 1988 production of Samuel Beckett’s play “Waiting for Godot” directed by Jan Jönsson which brought him international attention.
In 2003, Michel Wenzer produced a documentary in Sweden entitled “Three Poems by Spoon Jackson.” The film included recordings of Spoon reciting his poems, taped from telephone calls.
The Prison Arts Program brings art, music, dance, speakers and cultural classes into the state’s correctional institutions and facilities. Study of the Arts teaches literacy, geography, civics, interpersonal relationships and cultural awareness. This enables art students to bring about unity from diversity within their incarceration period and provide them with a new look and appreciation of the outside community when they are released. Art education boosts inmates’ literacy skills and sense of self worth. The study of arts and culture by prison inmates has been proven to teach discipline as well as creativity; helping them to get and keep jobs on the outside. The arts help build the self esteem inmates need in order to become successful members of society. Approximately 1,000 adult offenders participate in the DE Prison Arts Program.
Still Point Theatre Collective’s Persephone Project facilitates theater workshops with women in Chicago-area detention centers including the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC), Lake County Jail, and the Dwight Correctional Center. These workshops are safe spaces for incarcerated women to tell their stories, build community, and explore together. At the end of a three- to four-month process, participants present an original performance for invited guests, prison volunteers, and their fellow inmates that provides a forum to express their views, and share with their experiences and challenges, as incarcerated women.
Workshops are currently being held at the LA County Jail as well as an outreach program.
“The strindberg laboratory workshops teaches people in jails to manage their minds in a more effective way.” -Sheriff Lee Baca
The Strindberg Laboratory focuses in bringing hope to society where the gap between rich and poor increases every day. We want to give back the voice to those people who have lost it by offering theatre workshops as an transformative tool to cope with financial, physical, emotional and creative poverty.
Our group focuses on creating professional theater productions with our students and with our theater members. This allows us to build a creative dialogue and relationship with communities and strengthen our own professional skills and ideals. Through the messages of our plays we strengthen and bring local communities together.
Judith has taught poetry in urban, rural and suburban public schools through California Poets in the Schools, and at San Quentin and other state prisons through Arts-in-Corrections. She created a cross-age, community, poetry program at the continuation high school in Albany, California, and at one of the town’s primary schools. She also designed a poetry intensive for gifted teen-agers that she taught for nine summers at UC Berkeley.
Judith has a strong commitment to prisoners and prison issues. She wrote and edited: California’s Arts-in-Corrections’newsletter, their book-length Manual For Artists Working In Prison, and the Handbook for Arts in the Youth Authority Program. She also completed a feasibility study for arts programming in Minnesota state prisons, and has participated in and chaired many panels on prison arts. She has taught in prisons across the country, and has been keynote speaker and on panels at many conferences on prison and prison arts.
Reclaiming voice through art
Telling My Story is a non-profit organization that breaks down walls between socially isolated individuals and their communities using theater as a medium for social reflection and relationship building. Our programs develop self-awareness and communication skills with populations behind visible and invisible social walls — such as those created by incarceration, addiction, and poverty. Through writing and performing, people behind walls are empowered to reclaim their own voices and strengths.
The documentary TELLING MY STORY offers viewers an extraordinary window into a rural jail, an Ivy League College, and what happens when these two worlds collide. Both heartbreaking and inspirational, the film shares the life-changing experiences of 14 Dartmouth students and 10 female prisoners working together to write and perform an original play about the lives of the incarcerated women. It’s a riveting movie that delves into privilege, poverty and injustice and challenges viewers to think about who is in prison and why.
Theatre of Witness is a form of performance developed by founder and artistic director Teya Sepinuck, that gives voice to those who have been marginalised, forgotten or are invisible in society. Their true life stories, performed by the people themselves, are shared onstage so that audiences can collectively bear witness to issues of suffering, redemption and social justice.
Jean Trounstine piloted work with women in a Massachusetts prison beginning in 1987 and continuing for ten years. She has written a book which amazingly was also named SHAKESPEARE BEHIND BARS: The Power of Drama in a Women’s Prison, andwhich detailed her directing eight plays behind bars and teaching women in prison.