The Fine Arts of prison education

The Fine Arts of prison education

By Christopher Zoukis

Slowly, but surely, it feels like change is coming when it comes to prison education. Certainly many days it can feel like an uphill battle, but that’s why it’s so important to enjoy stories like these.

Ten years ago prison reform wasn’t even on most legislators’ radars, let alone the public’s. Fast forward to today, and we even have bipartisan agreement on the need for reform and, as part of that, the importance of prison education in reducing recidivism. Increased dialogue on these issues is also having a trickle down effect to individuals who, in the past, would never have even given a second thought to how they could help contribute to changing the lives of prisoners.

A couple of weeks ago we came across information on a performance of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream out of Australia. What made this staging notable, however, is that it was performed by prisoners at Acacia Prison.  Nichola Renton, an award-winning actor and director, took it upon herself to develop a theatre program to compliment the institution’s existing education program. She recognized the potential of such training to improve literacy and generally bolster one’s sense of self-worth. Just as with art therapy, it provides participants with an important creative outlet for expression they not have otherwise.

In that same vein, Lucy Wallace of Boulder Academy of Movement studio has brought dance classes to inmates at the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility. Recognizing the opportunities dance has brought to her life, and how it has helped shape her as an individual, she created Dance 2B Free, a way for women to escape through movement one day a week. And beyond that, she has created a teacher training program for those women who want to be able to run classes for fellow inmates.  

For everyone who doubts the importance of fine arts to a well-rounded education, I beg you to take a moment to read the stories of the women on her website, to hear what the Shakespearian prison actors gained from their experiences.

Every step in this process comes from a single individual. So I want to take a moment to thank each and every one of those Lucy Wallaces and Nicola Rentons out there, for taking a step that translates leaps and bounds for each and every incarcerated individual whose life they touch.

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