Our team is grateful to our wonderful community for contributing to and engaging with JAC in so many ways over the last year, through some very challenging times. We’re excited to celebrate the launch of Maryland’s first multidisciplinary, distance learning arts program serving incarcerated women, CorrespondARTS, with all of our friends and supporters.
When COVID-19 began sweeping the country, shutting down visitations and programming in prisons nationwide, here at JAC we knew we had to push harder to maintain connections with artists inside. With our pARTner project and ArtLinks events in place online, enabling people on the outside to connect with the incarcerated artists in our network and engage with their creative work, we explored untapped possibilities to build even more bridges.
After much planning JAC formed a team of highly experienced, passionate local teaching artists who had lost their programs in prisons and jails as a result of the Covid lockdowns. Together with our Founding Director, they developed a 6 month pilot project, with activity packets offering prompts and lessons in theatre, visual art, creative writing, and poetry are being delivered every two weeks to the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women, Each participant will receive feedback and reflections on the work they return to us. JAC is the organizing body for this project, but the creative control is in the hands of four fabulous teaching artists, Lori Pitts of Voices Unbarred, Schai Schairer of FIST DC, Carien Quiroga, and Leslie Bumstead.
CorrespondARTS is being funded in part through a grant awarded to us by the Maryland State Arts Council. We are grateful for this support and hope to be able to supplement our budget to help cover the costs of art supplies and printing and to adequately compensate our team members for their time and labor.
On this Giving Tuesday, a global day of giving, help us fund CorrespondARTS and reestablish opportunities for creative expression during this time of isolation and crisis. Please donate to our campaign so we can sustain this much-needed program!
A $50 donation covers art supplies for 5 participants
A $70 donation covers printing costs for 20 packets of art curriculum
A $150 donation covers the full cost for 3 participants for 1 round (incl. printing, curriculum design, and supplies)
A $500 donation covers the full cost for 10 participants for 1 round (incl. printing, curriculum design, and supplies)
“It is enough that our time with loved ones is taken from us in penalty. Our voices and hearts expression should have a continuum always, this is the essence of life and no one should be allowed to take that from any individual under any circumstances. So thank you so much for providing an outlet for this; it’s rewarding to me to have this form of expression, correspondence, communication. I sincerely hope this is reciprocated to you and the members of the Coalition committee who work to make this possible that they can continually feel their efforts are making a difference and receive a beneficial impact in their own lives as well.” –Cedar, artist
Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for being a part of our vibrant community and supporting us in so many ways!
We are also delighted to announce that Miller and Dupcak are generously donating 20% of the book’s proceeds to the Justice Arts Coalition! The anthology is available in paperback for $12 on Amazon.
We had the pleasure of speaking with Amanda Miller to learn more about her work and the creation of Lyrics, Lit, & Liquor and Words After Dark.
JAC: Please describe a bit about your background as it relates to the work you are doing today. How did you become involved in this work?
AM: I am a writer, performer, event producer, yoga instructor, massage therapist, Jewish educator, and activist. To me, these roles are all interconnected and overlapping, falling under the umbrella of arts and healing. Theater and writing came first and organically sprouted into the rest.
I became involved in JAC through my work with PEN America’s Prison Writing Program where I have served as a Prison Writing Awards Committee member, event co-curator, book reviewer and performer. I co-curated and performed in the program’s virtual event A Stronger Desire To Live as part of PEN’s World Voices Festival in June 2020 featuring visual art from JAC’s roster of artists, which is how I first connected with JAC. I got involved with the Prison Writing Program when the director was reaching out to NYC Reading Series to feature work by incarcerated writers as part of PEN’s first ever BREAK OUT series, a movement to (re)integrate incarcerated writers into the literary community.
JAC: What inspired you to start Lyrics, Lit & Liquor and how has it evolved over the years, culminating in the release of this anthology?
AM: Inspiration for the series came when my writing group member, Scott Hess, launched his novel back in 2012 with a variety show. At the time of Scott’s launch I’d been hosting a comedy variety show, but I’d never attended one in which literature was featured let alone the centerpiece of the evening. I found that breaking up the readings with other forms of art helped audiences listen more deeply.
For a while I’d been straddling the performance and literary worlds, but Scott helped me see a way to bridge the two. A chapter from my memoir One Breath, Then Another was due out in an anthology that August. I decided to celebrate with an event in the dive bar where I hosted the comedy show with a reading of my chapter sandwiched between various acts. It was a memorable night, moving from the hilarious to the heartbreaking with lush tunes interspersed throughout. Afterward, the venue invited me to host an ongoing show in this format and, with that, Lyrics, Lit & Liquor was born.
While other performances would be sprinkled in, readings and music would form the show’s backbone.The most important thing was to have a fun, welcoming, unpretentious, DIY feel open to a wide array of writers, musicians, and performers, with no fancy credits or a book deal required. A discussion about the series with dear friend, fellow writing group member and Jeopardy! fan Amy Dupcak led to the idea to include original themed trivia at every show, a question between each performance.
While we have changed venues four times in our nearly eight-year lifespan, we’ve remained in the East Village. And while the overall vibe of that neighborhood has dramatically changed over the past decade, it’s still hallowed ground for DIY alternative art and culture. We’ve always aimed to contribute to the spirit of a neighborhood that keeps that torch lit.
Words After Dark is a natural outgrowth of our series and the brainchild of myself and Amy. We wanted to feature some of the talented readers and musicians who have graced our stage over the years, and to share their work with an even wider audience. Editing this anthology has been a labor of love nourished by a deep commitment to maintaining a space for open artistic expression and community.
JAC: What is unique about Lyrics, Lit & Liquor and how have you maintained/translated this into the anthology? What makes Words After Dark different from other collections of poems, stories, lyrics, etc?
AM: Lyrics, Lit & Liquor’s eclectic nature makes the series unique: at any given event you may experience an old lady character stripping down to her leopard print drawers, satirical political country songs, an operatic magician, a topless woman with a political message scrawled across her chest rocking out on her electric guitar, confessional poetry, quirky fiction, gripping memoir, and audience members shouting bizarre noises to answer a trivia question for a candy bar.
Organized into sections that pair beverages with writing and trivia (answers in the back—no peeking!), Words After Dark recreates the Lyrics, Lit & Liquor experienceon the page. Sip a Dirty Martini while snickering at the lyrics to “A Sweet Fucking Word” by award-winning comedian and musician,Jessica Delfino. Indulge in a Bloody Mary while absorbing the gut-punching novel excerpt from critically-acclaimed authorScott Alexander Hess’ The Root of Everything. Toss back a tequila shot while taking in the heart-stomping prose poem “My Past and Future in Present Tense” by PEN America Prison Writing award winner Sean Dunne. Drinks are hand drawn by New York graffiti artistMatthew Litwack. All these elements make Words After Dark different from other collections.
JAC: What inspired Words After Dark?
AM: As we were rounding the corner to the eight year mark, Amy and I came up with the idea for the anthology together. We wanted to celebrate our tenacity in keeping the series going this long and the awesome community we’ve built along the way. We originally intended to publish this anthology in May 2020 in tandem with a celebratory bash at the bar where we’ve been stationed for the last couple of years. Alas, Covid-19 shuttered venues, eliminated in-person gatherings and relegated us to the walls of our apartments for the indefinite future. And so we postponed our publication date, waiting until we could hold a proper release party in our proper venue. But as the pandemic has persisted with no clear indication as to when “normal life” will resume, we decided to publish now.
The title Words After Dark comes from the fact that the words in the book were literally performed when it was dark outside. But it turns out that the title works on a more metaphorical level that speaks to our current times. Venues may be dark, but artists are still here, and the world needs art and connection more than ever.
JAC: Why are you choosing to generously donate 20% of the book’s proceeds to JAC?
AM: In the time I’ve been a part of the JAC community, I’ve been so inspired by the work this passionate, open-hearted network of human beings is doing. This is a group of people harnessing the power of art for its highest purposes: healing, liberation, education, community, and justice. I’m donating a portion of the proceeds to JAC to support this work and also increase awareness of JAC as an entity.
JAC: What are you hoping your readers will get from Words After Dark?
AM: I hope readers will enjoy a fun, moving, enlightening journey through the drawings, trivia, comedy, short stories, song lyrics, essays, poetry, and novel excerpts on these pages. I hope they will be inspired by the unbound, uncensored creative expression.
I hope that in this time of physical distancing, the collection will provide a feeling of connection and remind readers of the power of words to lift us up.
Words After Dark is a great gift for aspiring literary writers, songwriters and comedians hankering for unbound, uncensored creative inspiration. It’s essential for anyone with an interest in NYC’s independent arts scene and for all who believe in the power of words to lift us up.
Featuring Sheila-Joon Azim, Mac Barrett, Brian Birnbaum, Adam Blotner, Emily Brout, Britt Canty, Jessica Delfino, Sean Dunne, Amy Dupcak, Rachel Evans, Juliet Fletcher, Jordana Frankel, Christie Grotheim, Jared Harel, Scott Hess, Helen Howard, Nancy Hightower, Meher Manda, Valdaniel Martins, Amanda Miller, Noam Osband, Zachary Parkman, Kyle Pritz, Joel Remland, Waylan Roche, Megan Sass, Christopher X. Shade, Shawn Shafner, Melissa Shaw, Simi Toledano, and Jenny Williamson.
Miller and Dupcak invite you to raise your glass, silence your phone and enjoy!
Our online Summer Workshop Series Create+Connect is going strong! This week, on Thursday, June 22, we are so excited to be joined by the incredible Kenneth Reams.
Kenneth Reams is an artist, social justice activist, and the founder of Who Decides, Inc., a non-profit that aims to raise awareness through the arts of the racial, ethical, and socio-economic issues intertwined with the history and practice of capital punishment in America. This workshop will include an hour long discussion of his experiences, as well as a Q&A at the end.
Mr. Reams is a native of Pine Bluff, Arkansas, one of the most impoverished cities in America. Growing up in poverty, struggling with hunger, abuse, and a lack of opportunity, criminality became an increasingly prominent, unfortunate facet of Mr. Reams’ life. Following a botched robbery at a drive-thru ATM, where his friend shot and killed a man in the heat of the struggle, Mr. Reams was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death, becoming the then-youngest inmate on Arkansas’ death row, despite not having pulled the trigger.
Facing execution for a murder he did not commit, Mr. Reams refused to allow his spirit to be broken, deciding to hone his life-long artistic skills and vision in order to share his story and perspective with the world. His art has been donated to several institutions, published in books; such as “Marking Time” – released in 2020, and featured in exhibits from New York to Norway, Little Rock to London, and many locations in between. Through a variety of media, including paintings, sculpture, and poetry, Mr. Reams expresses a uniquely visceral vision of the inhumane, arbitrary nature of capital punishment and the exploitative character of the prison-industrial complex.
Simultaneous with his rise in profile as an artist, Mr. Reams has become a prolific public speaker, engaging and enlightening an increasingly global audience. His past speaking engagements include talks at the International Film Festival on Human Rights in Switzerland, Stanford University, Bethany College, Princeton University, Columbia University, UNC Chapel Hill, St. Francis College in New York, Yale University, Geneva University – in Switzerland, and the University of Miami School of Law.
With the release of Free Men, a documentary about Mr. Reams’ life, legal battles, and art, his story has taken on a new dimension and medium. As the film has made its way through the circuit of international film festivals, Mr. Reams has shared his thoughts about the film and the future with enraptured audiences in Beirut, France, Argentina, Islamabad, Great Britain, Tokyo, Belgium, and Vienna.
Despite the physical limitations facing Mr. Reams, having spent the past twenty-seven years of his life in the solitary confines of a six-foot by nine-foot cell, Mr. Reams continues to make a lasting impact on all who hear his harrowing yet inspiring story, prompting a widening audience to evaluate their own conceptions of justice and morality.
Please join us for Kenneth Reams’ Workshop on June 22 at 7 pm EST! Tickets here.
Check out more of Kenneth’s work on his website, and sign his petition here!
Justice Arts Coalition is launching its first ever online workshop series! Given the tireless work of teaching artists and advocates across the sector, who consistently allow JAC’s community to be one of vibrancy and artistic celebration, we are thrilled to offer these workshops as a chance for our larger network to experience their creative gifts and outreach.
For this online workshop series, which began on April 28, we are joined by facilitators who work within and around carceral settings across the nation, across various national arts and advocacy organizations, and across arts mediums and practices. We will be bringing weekly arts workshops into your home, including those devoted to creative writing, yoga and meditation, poetry, theatre, and dance, to name a few. The goal of these workshops is to invoke and inspire inspiration, connection, and shared knowledge amongst our community of change makers, as we continue to alter and rebuild our work within the criminal legal system, in response to the limitations imposed by COVID-19.
As a valued member of JAC’s community, we hope to see you in our workshops. Below you can browse the offerings and schedule. These workshops are being offered as a “pay what you can” series, with donations split between JAC and the teaching artist facilitators. If you are interested in facilitating a workshop in our series, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
In this workshop, you will learn about the impact IAHV Prison Breathing-Meditation Program has on inmates through a before & after photo project and inmate testimonies. Through this lense, we will explore the value of providing this meditation and stress management to women in the US corrections system. This workshop will also lead attendees through some of the breathing and meditation techniques IAHV teaches incarcerated women.
IAHV Prison Program
The International Association for Human Values (IAHV) Prison Program became a Bureau of Prisons evidence-based program in 2015. It teaches both correction’s staff and inmates powerful breathing and meditation techniques used to manage emotions more effectively as well as reduce stress and anger. Since the program’s inception in 1993, it has spread to 56 countries worldwide, and recently data has shown that it’s graduates in their Indiana program had a 61% less recidivism rate.
Gabriella Savelli, International Director – IAHV Prison Program
Gabriella began teaching in prisons during 2006 as part of IAHV’s Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, and became Director of the IAHV Prison Program (Stress Management & Rehabilitation Training) in 2009. In 2012, she became a prison silence course pioneer, and has taught IAHV courses to both staff and residents in over 50 correctional facilities nationwide, as well as internationally. In 2016, she won the Washington DC DOC “Making a Difference” George Strawn Award. She served on the Board of SELA Red Cross, and is a graduate of the Office of Victim’s Assistance Leadership Program. Prior to working with IAHV, Gabriella served as a Department of Public Welfare caseworker for 10 years.
This workshop is being offered as “pay what you can,” with a $20 suggested donation, and a $1 minimum donation. All revenue will be split between JAC and the teaching artist facilitators, to honor their creativity, passion, and commitment to creating these spaces. We greatly appreciate any support you can provide.
JAC looks forward to your joining us as part of this workshop series, as we continue to build our community of artists and allies through these virtual offerings. If you are interested in facilitating a workshop in our series, please email email@example.com.
Iowa City-based writer Andy Douglas’s new book, “Redemption Songs: A Year in the Life of a Community Prison Choir”, was released on April 1, 2019. For six years, the author volunteered with the Oakdale Community Choir, a performing chorale composed of both volunteers and inmates and directed by University of Iowa associate professor of music education Dr. Mary Cohen, based in a correctional facility in Coralville, Iowa. Taking the reader inside the walls of this medium-security prison, the book offers a glimpse at how music and the arts are offering second chances to the incarcerated.
The United States incarcerates more prisoners per capita than any other country, with more than two million people in U.S. jails and prisons. In addition to exploring the role of singing as a rehabilitative tool, the book examines some of the pressing issues facing the criminal justice system.
In doing so, it reflects on several questions – how can music and the arts inspire prisoners to change? Should the underlying philosophy of our penal system be one of retribution or restoration? What can restorative justice offer to all those touched by crime and the criminal justice system?
Dr André de Quadros, Professor of Music and Chair, Department of Music Education, Boston University, notes, “More than an account of the choir’s work, the book is a deep insight into musical humanity under dehumanizing conditions. Douglas’s work is evocative and thoughtful, deeply compassionate and humble, and brings the reader close to the troubled lives, wounds and hopes of the incarcerated men.”
Andy Douglas received an MFA in Creative Writing from the Nonfiction Writing Program at the University of Iowa, where he was the recipient of the Marcus Bach Fellowship for Writing about Religion and Culture. His first book, The Curve of the World: Into the Spiritual Heart of Yoga, was published in 2013 by Bottom Dog Press. He is available for readings, and review copies available upon request.
TO ORDER: The book is available from Amazon.com (including ebook), in selected bookstores, and directly from the author. To support the author, order directly from him! Pre-order by sending your mailing address, $16, plus $2.75 for shipping and handling, to Andy Douglas, 2721-D Muscatine Ave, Iowa City, IA 52240. Or send your info to firstname.lastname@example.org and pay by paypal. A percentage of sales will be donated to Inside Out Reentry Community, a returning citizens support organization, and should you wish to donate any amount above the $16 cover price, this will go to the Iowa Organization for Victim Assistance.