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Posts Tagged ‘women prisoners’


Photo: New Zealand Herald
Royal New Zealand Ballet dance educator Pagan Dorgan said a dance initiative with women prisoners aims to build confidence and cooperation.

I like reading about programs designed to help individuals in prison grow in positive ways. I also like the idea of arts groups that, in addition to giving their art to the world, develop other ways to benefit society.

Consider this Royal New Zealand Ballet pilot for women prisoners. Meghan Lawrence at the New Zealand Herald has the story.

“Pirouettes and pliés are being used to break boundaries in a new initiative run by the Royal New Zealand Ballet (RNZB) Company.

“Best known for its dynamic dancers and eclectic repertoire of dance moves, RNZB has chosen to put accessibility and inclusion at the forefront of its latest project run in partnership with the Department of Corrections.

“Three of RNZB’s artistic staff have decided to put aside the national and international stages for [six weeks starting in November 2017] and spend their time teaching prisoners at Arohata Women’s Prison in Wellington. …

“Community manager Pascale Parenteau … said the initiative fits perfectly with the company’s primary goal of making dance accessible to all New Zealanders.

” ‘It was actually very timely because for some time the education team for RNZB have been working on developing an Accessibility Commitment Policy,’ she said.

“As part of that policy the company have run three other projects; the first sign-language interpreted guided tour of the St James Theatre, a sensory-friendly performance for children and adults with autism and special needs, and NZ’s first audio-described ballet performance for visually impaired children and adults. …

“[Parenteau] said the project aims to enhance prisoners’ confidence, communications skills and ability to work with others. …

” ‘When I was setting the programme up I was told that a lot of the women come from broken or disheartening homes and backgrounds, which means they would have never experienced participating in a high-profile training environment, so this is a bit of a boost for them.

” ‘I think they have been very courageous to put their hand up and have a go, but I think the freedom of expression that it allows them is going to be very beneficial.’

“Dance educator Pagan Dorgan was excited to take on the challenge, having previously run a similar initiative with male prisoners in the UK. …

“Dorgan said the project is run in two phases; six weeks of workshops leading up to the Christmas production, and then further sessions [in 2018] to learn specific RNZB repertoire.

“[The first session] was a little bit of everyone getting to know each other and we also did an aerobics or gym type warm-up’ she said. ‘We then went through some basic dance movements that were a mixture of jazz, contemporary and Latin.’ … There was no resistance at all and there was a nice, positive atmosphere.’

“Participants in the project said the experience gave them hope and inspiration, provided a chance to grow as individuals, and made them appreciate life outside of prison walls. …

“Parenteau said the project was set up as a one-off but she is hoping to get further funding to expand the classes.”

More at the New Zealand Herald, here. And Radio New Zealand has audio, here.

Photo: Radio New Zealand
A dance class in a prison.

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On Sunday my husband and I took in the painful stories of several formerly incarcerated women who work on getting their lives back on track with Mary Driscoll at OWLL. The occasion was the performance of a collaborative theater piece called Hidden Faces of Courage.

All the women had the cards stacked against them from childhood on and had little hope of a better future after serving time. A recurring theme was the near impossibility of finding work with a criminal record.

So it was with particular interest that I read an article in UU World today about a café in North Carolina that is giving such women a second chance at life, starting with helping them earn an income.

Michelle Bates Deakin writes, “There’s a classic Catch-22 for women who have served jail time. It’s nearly impossible to get a job with a criminal record, and without a job and an income, it’s hard to keep from reoffending.

“The Rev. Melissa Mummert, a community minister in Charlotte, N.C., has dedicated the past decade to helping solve this conundrum, providing career and life coaching to female prisoners …

“In August, she helped open a new takeout restaurant in downtown Charlotte run by women released from jail. Second Helping gives formerly incarcerated women valuable job skills, income, and new starts at life.

“ ‘I kept hearing the same theme from so many women: “When I hit the jail door, I can’t get a job, because there is so much employment discrimination against people with criminal records,” ‘ said Mummert. Second Helping helps women leaving jail or prison land that all-important first job.”

Monique Maddox is one of the beneficiaries of the effort. “Maddox has worked at Second Helping since November 2011, when it opened its first coffee cart. She credits Second Helping with giving her opportunity. ‘Each and every one of us value our freedom today,’ she said. ‘I would never give it up.’ ”

More.

Photo: UU World
Rev. Mummert helped open the Second Helping café in Charlotte. It employs and trains formerly incarcerated women.

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