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,
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.
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.
By Eric Brown Montreal-based ambient rock band, Godspeed You! Black Emperor was awarded the $30,000 Polaris Music Prize for its latest album “Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!”
Prisoners have long written poetry from inside the prison walls. For incarcerated men and women—as for all who have the urge to write poetry—Robert Frost’s words ring true: the poem “begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness.” Poetry is the need to express what’s locked up inside, and for the prisoner, the bars are real.
Sending a poem into the blogosphere is, however, a relatively new way for prisoners to find their voice. Boston University’s Robert Pinsky, a former U.S. Poet Laureate, says in an interview on Big Think that prisoners serving a life sentence often write the best poetry since they have a lot of time to reflect and read. While many poems by prisoners wouldn’t make it past your high school English teacher, some talented jailed New England poets are emerging online.
The Massachusetts Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild publishes poetry once a month from those first published in its Mass Dissent magazine. The power of poetry is what helped Douglas Weed, incarcerated at MCI Norfolk, to dig deep into his crime and his subsequent remorse is not unlike Raskolnikov’s soul searching in Crime and Punishment. Here is Weed’s Ode to a Prison Prophet from October 2012:
By Dianne Walker
The Alabama Prison Arts and Education Project fledged from a passion Kyes Stevens has for creating a better world for prisoners by providing educational opportunities that were far out of their reach.
When Stevens was awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts her enthusiasm for educating prisoners became a reality. She is the founder and director of the Alabama Prison Arts and Education Project that now serves inmates housed in correctional facilities throughout central and northern Alabama.
Steven’s first visit to the prison teaching poetry revealed her compassion for her students and her love of teaching.
The objective at inception of the program was to improve the lives of inmates by providing education and exposure to the arts.
When Stevens initiated the program she did not anticipate remuneration in return for accomplishing her dreams. She and the professors that work with the program experienced personal revolutions beyond their anticipation. Educating prisoners as an avenue to transform their view of what is possible for them has opened the educator’s eyes to humbleness they didn’t know existed.
From Houston, Texas comes this positive and innovative art therapy program – Children’s Prison Arts Project. Founded in 1994 by an artist and educator, Birgit Walker, the Children’s Prison Arts Project has become a non-profit organization dedicated to helping at-risk youth and incarcerated juveniles to express themselves through the arts. Included are visual arts, theater and creative writing.
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.
The Mural Arts Program reaches out to graffiti artists to redirect their artistic energies from destructive energy to making constructive or artistic mural painting. Founded in 1984 as a component of the Philadelphia Anti-Graffiti Network, the organization hired Jane Golden to help them move the program forward.
Ms. Golden was excited by the project and quickly discovered the great talent that graffitis artists had. What Ms. Golden created was a way to take that raw artistic energy and use it for mural-making. Murals can add color and beauty to inner-cities and build self-esteem among the community and certainly within the artists themselves.
Whether you wear a prison uniform or college clothes, people all have dreams, hopes, fears and wish to be understood. This became the sentiment from both women inmates at and several college students at Dartmouth College after working together creating a play and subsequent documentary, Telling My Story, about the lives of incarcerated women.
The 14 female prisoners are spending incarcerated time at the Sullivan County House of Correction in Unity in New Hampshire. The 10 students were enrolled in a community-based learning course at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. For 10 weeks the unlikely combination of Dartmouth college students and Sullivan County prisoners collaborated to create a play that addressed the difficulty of women in prison.
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.