The Rutger’s University Institute for Research on Women will be hosting Marking Time: Prison Arts and Activism Conference at Rutgers University at the beginning of October. The agenda is full of exciting events we wish we could attend! Despite not being able to, it is encouraging that Prison Arts will be the focus of this conference, which is the first of its kind. The conference has gathered programs and program leaders from across the country who focus their efforts on inmate expression through the arts. The event will also include an art exhibit of work from currently and formerly incarcerated individuals. This sharing of dynamic experiences and stories is close to our hearts here at WTR. Even if, like us, you cannot attend the event, you can view some of the art here.
Lead conference organizer, Dr. Nicole R. Fleetwood, captures the spirit of the event, (and similarly our mission) best by saying:
“There is a huge gap between the dominant public perception of prisoners—as lacking in value—and their humanity and productivity, as individuals who dream and envision brighter futures and as cherished ones whose families love and care for them.
Prison art helps to challenge the dehumanization of the incarcerated.”
“Days in prison have a sameness to them, and my most meaningful and frequent conversations were with authors.” –Daniel Genis
An interesting post on The New Yorker details the author’s conversation with a man, Daniel Genis, recently released from prison. The article mostly discusses what Genis did during his 10 years and 3 months in prison: read. It appears Genis read everything he could get his hands on from classics to the more obscure–for example–books on sumo wrestling and sausages.
While incarcerated, Genis kept a journal documenting all the books he read with commentary provided for each entry. He notes that he “started out with books that helped me make sense of the situation around me.” These titles included The House of the Dead by Fyodor Dostoevsky and The Autobiography of Malcolm x. He obtained his books from his father, prison libraries, or ordered from catalogs.
Genis speaks of not wasting time in prison because that virtually wastes your life. Instead, he says that reading Proust instilled in him the need to write in order to exist outside of prison. To that end, Genis completed a novel while incarcerated.
Find out more of what Genis read while incarcerated by reading the article here.
“Michael said after the workshop that he never would have imagined he’d be a writer. When he reads his work to his peers it is freeing.”
–from SC prison holds writing program for prison inmates by Lyn Riddle
Perry Correctional Institution, a maximum security prison in South Carolina, is host of a creative writing program for inmates. The “Writers Block” program was started by Carol Young Gallagher and Anna Katherine Freeland and functions as a traditional writing workshop where peer critique of work is emphasized.
Three years ago, Gallagher, then president of The Emrys Foundation, began the program after receiving a letter from an inmate asking to start a program. Emrys Foundation, a literary nonprofit which includes an annual journal and press, had previously held writing workshops in hospitals but never prisons. Gallagher, with the help of Freeland who “wanted to do a creative writing program in a prison since she was an undergraduate in the English and creative writing program at Converse College 16 years ago” created Writers Block, which they hope to one day make its own nonprofit and expand to other facilities.
To mark the program’s three-year anniversary, a journal of the inmate’s work will be published this fall.
Read more about the program in The Charlotte Observer.
A recent article in the Kansas City Star discusses the positive impact of of the Arts in Prison poetry class. Arts in Prison exposes inmates to a myriad of artistic endeavors including visual arts, singing, and even Shakespearean performances!
Of their poetry program, inmate Wise Hayes shares his observation that “by writing poetry and writing raps, I found a kind of spiritual release.”
Read more about the extensive opportunities Arts in Prison is able to provide Lansing Correctional Facility inmates here.