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Posts Tagged ‘job skills’

I believe that people must take responsibility for their actions, that crimes should have punishments, and that every effort should be made to protect society from danger. But I don’t think society is protected if the place of punishment makes a person who committed a crime more angry and hostile than when she did it.

That’s why I like to post about the many kinds of volunteers who work with inmates to turn their hearts to better purposes. It may not always work, but it seems worth trying.

A while back, I blogged about one friend who works with ex-offenders through an organization called OWLL (On With Living and Learning: Jobs Skills for the 21st Century).

Now another friend has written about being accepted into a volunteer program at a low-level women’s prison near her home. The way this friend writes about her orientation, I can see the whole thing.

“I had a letter telling me not to bring a cell phone, smoking paraphernalia, medications, or sharp objects, and not to wear tight clothing, open-toed shoes, dangly earrings, or anything green or orange. … About half the volunteers were people of color and half were white. About a quarter spoke to one another in Spanish. More than half were middle-aged or older. One woman was in a wheelchair. So, it was a pretty diverse group. … There was lots of impressive high-tech security. There are lots of things we’re not allowed to do, like buy things for the inmates, or bring them messages. Or–and the volunteer handbook says this explicitly–help them escape or cover up an escape attempt.” (!)

Are touchy-feely prison programs all too naïve? Well, a highly skeptical prison warden at a Florida prison where there is a dance program admits that he came to see the benefit of women inmates having more-positive ways of expressing themselves:

 

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I wrote before about a program using the arts to help people in prisons get beyond the prisoner mindset. Here’s a similar story.

Michelle “Bankston, who has short, blond hair and a muscular build, has spent almost 20 years behind bars. She was incarcerated first at a medium-security facility here in Alabama, and then at a private prison in Louisiana (to relieve overcrowding, Alabama sends some inmates out of state), and finally here, at the Montgomery Women’s Facility, a sun-soused cluster of buildings on the outskirts of the capital city.

” ‘A while back I decided that I could either spend decades in the bunks, watching TV or playing cards,’ Bankston says, ‘or I could get out here and take the opportunity to write poetry and draw.’

“That she’s been given this opportunity to do her art is testament to the work of Kyes Stevens, an avuncular and outspoken educator, poet, and Alabama native. Since 2002, Ms. Stevens has headed The Alabama Prison Arts + Education Project (APAEP), which offers literature and art classes in a range of prisons across the state. The program is funded by Auburn University and an array of grants. The teaching staff consists of five Auburn-based instructors and a rotating cast of teaching fellows from the graduate creative-writing program at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Classes run for 14 weeks and are rigorously structured, like college courses, demanding a full commitment from students.”

Read the article in the Christian Science Monitor.

On a related note, I met a woman in my playwriting class who founded a nonprofit called On With Living and Learning, Inc. Mary Driscoll lives in the Fort Point Channel area of Boston and works with people who have been through the prison system. She uses theater to generate the catharsis that can result from their telling their stories and also to help them develop “job skills for the 21st century.” Read about her here. A script that Mary was working on in my playwriting class is now going to be made into an opera, with all sorts of helpers, like the Harvard-trained opera composer, the cabaret singer, and the reggae performer.

I can’t help thinking that when these creative people use their talents to help others, they are getting something special in return.

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