Art Behind Bars

Matt Kelly, the Communications Manager at the Innocence Project writes the following blog entry for’s Criminal Justice Blog.  Check out the site for more articles from a national criminal justice reform campaign:

Published November 23, 2008 @ 10:48AM PST

This weekend I visited Sing Sing Prison in New York to see the play “In the Silence of the Heart,” performed and staged by inmates. It was an excellent show, performed twice last week for inmates and a third time for guests on Friday night. The play was made possible by the nonprofit organization Prison Communities International and their project Rehabilitation Through the Arts. (The image above is from a previous RTA play at Sing Sing)

The play reminded me of the importance of art behind bars. Art and performance programs are critical pieces of prison education systems, but they are often the first to go when budgets get tight, and much of the creative education in prisons today is fostered by nonprofits like RTA.

There are dozens of local prison arts groups in the U.S. and a few national ones like RTA. They always need volunteer artists to teach painting, writing, theater, music – any talent you’ve got, there’s a opportunity to teach it in our overstuffed prisons. Even for non-artists like myself, there are ways to get involved. You can help a group like RTA with their events, their website, by spreading the word, by donating, by hosting an event in your community. You can buy your holiday cards or gifts this year from a prison artist. Below is a list of organizations doing this work around the country, contact one and get involved today.

Prison Communities International – Rehabilitation Through the Arts

Prisons Foundation

Children’s Prison Art Project, Harris County Texas

Prison Creative Arts Project, Michigan

Arts in Prison, Kansas City

A little more on the play I saw Friday. It was two years in the making, and it was clearly the kind of healing art that can promote dialogue and provide an opportunity for individuals to express their talents. The show focused on an inter-racial family with a father who is away for ten years. It confronts important social issues like child abuse and race in a postive way. If this show could be duplicated across the country, we’d have a healthier prison population and some of the 650,000 prisoners released each year could be coming out with a new – or continuing – appreciation for the arts.

For a look behind the scene at a play like this, check out the This American Life episode about a production of Hamlet in a Missouri prison.

Share your thoughts below about this new blog and his ideas about creating art behind bars.

One thought on “Art Behind Bars

  1. Lene B. Lauritzen

    I am confident that art behind bars is a good thing. I haven’t had much experience in the field yet, but I hope I will soon. What I have done so far is theatre improvsation in two different prisons. That the inmates enjoyed themselves was obvious to me as I was watching their faces and heard their laughter. The prison officers told me they had never heard the prisoners laugh so much before. The prisoners themselves told me that they looked foreward to the next time I would be there. Once I was ill and had to cancel a class, one of the prisoners told me when I arrived the week after that he was glad I was there, because he had not laughed since the last time I was there. So I do believe that art can make a difference in a prisoners life, just as in any other persons life.

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