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Themba Interactive: South African Theatre and HIV/AIDS

3 Aug

Andy and I took an overnight train from Johannesburg to Durban, and we are now staying at a most wonderful bed and breakfast called Essenwood House. If you are ever headed this way, you should not miss it. The house is beautiful and quite comfortable, and the gardens are enchanting.

Here I am at Collectors Treasury.

Here I am at Collectors Treasury.

The day before yesterday we explored a rather artsy section of Johannesburg called Maboneng where we’d heard rumors that we might find a good bookstore.  Ever since we went to Constitution Hill, I’ve been wanting to find a book that would tell me more about Mahatma Ghandi’s time in South Africa and what brought him here in the first place. Constitution Hill has a pretty neat little bookstore, but they were sold out of Ghandi books. We made our way over to a place called Collectors Treasury where we saw the largest collection of used books in the Southern Hemisphere! It was actually pretty overwhelming, and I wish books didn’t weigh so much in one’s luggage.  I’d bring armloads of them home if I could. Still didn’t find the Ghandi book I’m seeking, but I’ll keep enjoying the hunt.

A few days ago, during our first day in Johannesburg, Andy and I went over to the offices of a local applied theatre company called Themba Interactive. This nonprofit  is really a public health organization that uses theatre as its primary mode of educating its target audiences. They work almost exclusively on issues related to HIV/AIDS, and some of the key sites for their work are in prisons throughout Gauteng (the province in which Johannesburg is located) and beyond. We had the pleasure of speaking with two of Themba’s staff members, Sila Chatikobo and Sne Makanya.

Andy and I have now met with participants in three different prison theatre projects in South Africa, and all of the people with whom we’ve talked have stated that prison theatre in South Africa tends to address HIV/AIDS in one way or another. In the other parts of the world where I’ve done similar research public health concerns do emerge in some aspects of prison theatre, but those ideas range from drug abuse to domestic violence as well as sexually transmitted diseases. In no other country have I seen so unified a concern. Of course, it should come as no surprise that South Africans would be preoccupied with HIV/AIDS. According to AVERT–a U.K.-based HIV/AIDS charity organization:

South Africa has the biggest and most high-profile HIV epidemic in the world. In 2012, an estimated 6.1 million people were living with HIV, with 240,000 South Africans dying from AIDS-related illnesses.

South Africa now provides free HIV/AIDS medication to its citizens, both in and out of prison, and has reduced the number of HIV-related deaths in the country significantly since 2009. However, the social stigmas attached to HIV often prevent infected individuals from seeking treatment or support.

Themba Interactive uses theatre to train students and incarcerated people to be peer educators in their communities. Themba employs both a theatre company and a set of facilitators who train the peer educators. In a prison setting Themba programming usually plays out in several phases. First, the Themba theatre company devises and rehearses an original play about the issues they wish to address for this particular audience. Then the company performs inside the prison and afterwards holds an interactive discussion with the audience of prisoners. At this point prisoners have the option to sign up to participate in a series of workshops that will train them to be peer educators.

Each workshop has around twenty-five incarcerated participants. Over the course of about ten sessions, the Themba staff members educate the workshop participants about HIV/AIDS (or any other topic at hand, like sexuality in prison or gender violence, yet always with an HIV/AIDS focus) and train them to teach this information to others. The workshop participants then become peer educators, holding sessions of their own with others in the prison, and Themba staff members come back at various times throughout the following year to observe these sessions and support the peer educators. At the end of a year and the completion of a series of their own informational sessions for other prisoners, the peer educators receive a certificate from Themba showing that they are now trained peer educators.

During the training for peer educators, Themba’s staff facilitators use theatre to make the educational process interactive. Sne Makanya said that many other organizations seeking to provide information about HIV/AIDS will show up with a PowerPoint presentation and a lecture, condescending to the prisoners as they pass along information rather than seeking their partnership in combating the epidemic. Makanya also noted that theatre enables folks in prison to take on a role other than that of a perpetrator, enabling them to discover that they have both agency and responsibility in their own lives and in their communities. She emphasized that ensemble work in the theatre teaches us to be respectful to and inclusive of others–the opposite of the isolating effect of the social stigma attached to positive HIV status. Theatre also helps the peer educators in training to rehearse their roles as leaders before they facilitate sessions of their own with others in the prison. Storytelling, role play, and team building games are all a part of Themba’s training, as are exercises in music and visual art. The program works in both English and Zulu to make the training accessible to as broad a population in the prison as possible.

Themba Interactive’s process is remarkable in its longterm follow up to the initial performance work. Interestingly, the theatre component fades with time. Though Themba’s initial encounter with a given population takes the form of a performance and much of the peer educator training is done in theatre games and role playing, theatre is not essential to the peer education work led by prisoners for other prisoners. Themba’s staff members told us that while the theatre games function effectively when led by Themba facilitators, the peer educators are reluctant to use them in their group work with other prisoners and often defer to the separate drama group within the prison when Themba staff suggest that peer educators incorporate performance into their sessions.

Since Themba is so actively engaged in fighting the AIDS epidemic in South Africa, the organization has more avenues for funding than your average nonprofit theatre organization. In fact all of Themba’s funding comes from agencies with interests in public health rather than the arts, including USAID, the South African government, and a health organization based in Germany. The public health focus of the work also helps Themba to maintain positive relationships with South African Correctional Services. Rather than gaining entry to the prisons through a staff person who works on recreation or special activities, as many other prison theatre companies would, Themba works with the staff of the health clinics at the prisons. Themba staff members reported to us that when they cease programming at a particular facility, the prison nurses are sad to see the folks from Themba leave because their work really does improve the health of the prisoners and lightens the load of the nursing staff by encouraging prisoners to take their medications. Apparently, in the fight to curb the AIDS epidemic, many health care providers in South Africa spend inordinate amounts of time convincing people to receive treatment rather than actually treating them, so the work of groups like Themba proves invaluable to those who would prefer to put all of their resources into providing health care. The South African prisons not only support Themba’s work but also enable (and encourage!) the peer educators who come out of this program to hold group sessions with their fellow prisoners.  In fact the prisons will actually pay wages to the peer educators and count this work as their prison jobs or sometimes give them positions as caregivers in the prison hospitals. In the United States prisoners are often punished for gathering in groups for purposes other than sanctioned religious services, and the ability for prisoners to educate one another in U.S. prisons remains rare. The idea that the work of Themba’s trained peer educators is readily accepted and supported in South African prisons may be an indicator of the profundity of the AIDS crisis here rather than a trend toward progressive empowerment of incarcerated people. Regardless, it provides enormous benefit to the prisoners and should be used as a model for educational programming in prisons around the world.

Like most nonprofits, Themba’s funding comes in term-limited grant cycles, which at present means that their work in the prisons ceased on the Thursday before our arrival and cannot begin again until they secure another grant. Like the theatre itself, this kind of grassroots work is all about the embodied moment, and the experience of it can be fleeting and ephemeral if the proactive public health message that Themba conveys is not maintained and supported. If people stop speaking publicly about the facts about HIV/AIDS and retreat into the myths and stigmas that have contributed to the epidemic, then the disease will continue to spread, particularly inside prisons where infection rates are high and unsafe sex a common practice.

Not all peer educators trained by Themba continue to do the work of HIV/AIDS education for prolonged periods after their certification, but some do. The Themba staff told us about a woman who has been leading peer education groups in her neighborhood since her release from prison and about others who have helped a great many of their fellow prisoners.  Empowering the incarcerated to become well-informed leaders in their own communities provides a lasting and potent strategy for fighting the war on this epidemic. South Africa’s greatest human rights victories were won because of the extraordinary work of formerly incarcerated people like Nelson Mandela, and undoubtedly Themba Interactive is making critically important interventions–what Jorge Huerta calls “necessary theatre”–in this fight for the very lives of hundreds of thousands of South Africans.

The Atonement Project: Restorative Justice and the Arts

10 Feb

The Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP) is excited to announce an opportunity to be part of its new Atonement Project initiative—an arts-based restorative justice program that seeks to start meaningful conversations about crime, incarceration, and reconciliation.

Anyone whose life has been touched by crime or incarceration in any way is invited to join a weekly Atonement Project arts workshop in either Detroit or Lansing. Workshops are facilitated by University of Michigan students enrolled in PCAP Director Ashley Lucas’ Atonement Project course. Workshops began February 1 (Detroit) and February 4 (Lansing) and run for 12 weeks. Contact Ashley Lucas at for more information or to register. You are welcome to join even if you already missed the first weeks of the workshop.

Project Description

The Atonement Project is an innovative, arts-based approach to addressing issues that many crime victims and people who have committed crimes find difficult to discuss (i.e. forgiveness and reconciliation). We wish to create spaces, both through an interactive website and through arts workshops in prisons and in communities affected by crime, where the arts and creativity can help us bridge the divides created by crime and incarceration. The ultimate goal of the Atonement Project is to bring together people whose lives have been shaped by crime so that we can join our efforts to prevent further harm to our families, loved ones, and communities.

Drawing on a broad variety of art forms, including visual art, creative writing, theater, music, poetry, and dance, the Atonement Project uses creative expression to engage participants in tough conversations about crime, punishment, and reconciliation. Technology, including the Atonement Project website, video, digital photography, social media, and interactive online tools will enable web users to have access to the products of our arts workshops and participate in larger conversations about forgiveness and atonement.

The use of creativity and art in examining issues related to atonement and reconciliation is a central component of the Atonement Project. Many people respond more openly to and are able to connect with the experiences of others when they read their stories and experience visual art. The art created in our workshops and displayed on our website will focus on the following three areas of the atonement process:

  • Acknowledgement: Recognizing how we have hurt and how we have been hurt by others.
  • Apology: Apologizing to those we have hurt, and apologizing to ourselves for the hurt we have caused ourselves.
  • Atonement: Atoning through direct actions in our community, with people we have hurt as well as ourselves.

Community Workshops

Anyone whose life has been touched by crime or incarceration in any way is welcome to participate in community workshops, and there is no cost involved in participation. Workshops will take place once a week for two hours and will run for twelve weeks. We ask that participants try to come to all workshops, but we understand that not everyone who participates will be able to attend every single week.

Each workshop will be a space for participants to collaborate as a group on creative writing, performance, and/or visual art. No prior artistic training or previous affiliation with PCAP is required. Everyone is welcome, and no particular skill set is necessary for participation.

Detroit Workshop

Saturdays, 1-3pm

February 1-April 19, 2014

U-M Detroit Center (South Studio)

3663 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48201

Lansing Workshop

Tuesdays, 6:30-8:30pm

February 4-April 22, 2014

Michigan State University

Snyder-Phillips Hall C301
362 Bogue Street (close to the intersection of Bogue and Grand River)
East Lansing, MI 48825

Contact Ashley Lucas at to register.

About the Prison Creative Arts Project

The Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP) was founded in 1990 with the mission to collaborate with incarcerated adults, incarcerated youth, urban youth and the formerly incarcerated to strengthen our community through creative expression. Housed in the University of Michigan’s Residential College, faculty and students work with community members both inside and outside prisons to engage in theatre, dance, visual art, creative writing, slam poetry, and music.

More information, including a link to the Atonement Project website (which we hope to launch later this month) will appear on this blog soon.

Meanwhile, my dear friend Margarita Mooney (a sociologist at Yale) visited our class and wrote a fantastic blog entry of her own that explains our work beautifully.  Thank you, Margarita, for your support of the Atonement Project and for your wonderful visit to the Atonement Project class!

Teatro Renascer: Theatre with Elderly Residents of Rio

11 Jul

Today’s excursion involved a trip to a hospital in the neighborhood of Tijuca, courtesy of the UniRio van and Professor Carmela Soares.  As you can see in this picture, the hospital was brightly painted and surrounded by plants and gardens.  The building itself and the medical school next door had Spanish tile on the roofs and beautiful archways everywhere

100_1742we looked.  The place had a much warmer feel than the sleek, antiseptic hospitals to which I am accustomed in the United States.

Every Wednesday morning Professor Soares and four of her students lead a theatre workshop called Teatro Renascer, which means the theatre of rebirth. This program is not only part of UniRio’s theatre programming but also a part of the larger Renascer organization which provides many different kinds of services to people in the neighborhood.  The woman who started the Renascer organization was a nurse and a nutritionist who began approaching patients waiting in the long hallways of the hospital and offering them services, like nutrition classes.  Over the past fifteen years, the program has expanded to include literacy courses, physical therapy, and arts therapy.  Six years ago Teatro Renascer began doing theatre workshops in a meeting space off the side of the hospital.  The Renascer organization now serves many Tijuca residents who are not patients in the hospital, as well as those who are currently being treated there.  UniRio currently has multiple theatre workshops in hospitals: Teatro Renascer’s theatre workshop for elderly people and Enfermeria do Riso (led by Professor Ana Achcar) in which students and faculty trained in clowning entertain those sitting in the waiting rooms of various hospitals.  This morning we visited Teatro Renascer and saw their work with elderly people.

100_1744Professor Soares gave us a brief tour of the hospital as we made our way to the place where the theatre group meets.  We saw beautiful courtyards and gardens, like the one in which Renee Gross and I are standing with Professor Soares in this picture.  The hospital had many long corridors with high, arched ceilings where people waited to be seen by doctors.  I have no idea how long people usually wait in those hallways, but I had no trouble in seeing what a gift it would be for clowns to come along to break the monotony for those waiting for care.  Wouldn’t that be a pleasant distraction for any of us who need to wait in a hospital?

The theatre workshop that Professor Soares and her students facilitate takes place in a spacious room in a small building off to the side near the hospital’s main entrance.  The workshop participants range in age from sixty to eighty-eight years old, and they were definitely the most lively bunch we’ve encountered on this trip!  They had more energy than either the children of the Maré favela or the women we met in the prison, and neither of those groups was the least bit lackluster.  This workshop made more use of music than the others we’ve seen so far.  Two of the student facilitators were very talented singers, and one of them played the flute with remarkable skill and seemingly inexhaustible lungs.

We arrived ahead of most of the workshop participants, and as they began to wander into the room for the beginning of the workshop, they hugged us and kissed us on both cheeks before even asking who we were.  At several points during the workshop, someone would take me warmly by the hand and say something obviously friendly but not quite intelligible to me in rapid fire Portuguese, and when I would smile back, my new friend (and I made plenty throughout the morning!) would laugh and hug me. This group was contagiously good spirited and friendly.

To begin the workshop, we made a circle with plastic chairs and then stood in front of them to begin physical warm ups.  I’d assumed that this would be physically kind of a low impact workshop since some of the members of the group were nearly ninety years old, but I could not have been more mistaken.  We hardly sat down again for the rest of the three hour workshop.  I’m really not sure why we bothered to make a circle of chairs in the first place.  One of the UniRio students led us in a few simple stretches, and then we went around the circle with each of us leading a new stretch or warm up.  I tried to pick something simple and easy to do, but the older participants of the workshop pushed us to do more when their turns came.  After the physical warm ups, the same UniRio student led us in a few scales for vocal warm ups.  Then she played her flute and sang with another student.  One of the workshop participants, a woman named Marta, sang a whole song by herself.  Andy was later able to identify it as the Brazilian standard “Por causa de você.”  Then the rest of the group was invited to sing the same song with her.  They had a couple of lyric sheets for us to follow along as best we could.  None of the workshop participants ever displayed the slightest tinge of shyness or embarrassment about their voices or their bodies.  They sang, danced, and moved with both physical ease and the kind of total abandon that we theatre people so admire in actors who are able to shed their inhibitions.

After the song, another UniRio student led us in an exercise in which we were to each one by one step into the middle of the circle, state our first names and an adjective starting with the same letter as our first names, and create a physical gesture to go with it.  The workshop participants and facilitators were all very creative and funny (as were my students Renee, Liz, and Andy), and the exercise went without a hitch until it got to the oldest person in the workshop–a eighty-eight year old man named Claudiomir.  His first name is Claudiomir, but everyone calls him by his last name, which was something that began with a B that I never did quite catch.  He had to repeat himself three times in this exercise because he refused to choose an adjective to describe himself that began with the same letter as his name.  He was hilariously funny and loved the spotlight so much that he seemed to deliberately mess up his part in the games so that he would be asked to repeat himself.  He has a trickster’s sense of humor and decided to mess with me from the beginning of the workshop.  He would  approach me and say, “You’re not Brazilian are you?” And when I confirmed his suspicion, he began mumbling and speaking in jibberish to try to make me think he was really saying something to me and that I couldn’t keep up with him because of my lack of skill in Portuguese.  The UniRio students immediately recognized what he was doing and explained it to me, but he thought this was such a funny trick that he repeated it every chance he got in the workshop.  He also made a big show of wanting to hug me goodbye at the end of the day and then would turn and walk in a different direction at the last second right before he was about to hug me.  I’ve never before met someone his age with that much energy!  He moved and danced all over the place for three hours straight and didn’t seem the least bit tired when it was all over.

After we introduced ourselves, we were asked to invent a character with a different name and give that person a voice and a body.  I became a character named Rosangela in tribute to our Portuguese teacher in Michigan, and we then interacted with other people in the room as our characters and had to switch to become the character we’d just met as soon as we’d shaken hands with them.  It was a rather complicated game, and the workshop participants kept us on our toes.  They were amazing!

Then we gathered at one end of the room while the student with the flute played music.  Each person had to cross the room by her/himself, moving in time to the music the flautist played.  At first it seemed that people were moving to match her rhythms and notes, but then it became clear that the workshop participants had taken over and that the talented flautist was following them, trying to anticipate their rhythms and improvise music to suit each person’s style of movement.  It was an incredible thing to see.

After about two hours or so, we folks from the U.S. were pretty tired and starting to fall behind, and we were ushered into a side room by the UniRio students who had brought quite a spread of chocolates, small cakes, coffee, and tea.  We gratefully partook while the workshop participants were rehearsing the improvised scenes they are currently developing on the theme of birthday parties.  On our way back into the workshop room, as we were heading to our seats in the rows of chairs that had been set up as an audience, Claudiomir snatched a half-eaten cracker from Renee’s hand, gobbled it up, and laughed.  He was always at least two steps ahead of us no matter what we did!

The workshop participants were divided into two groups, and they had made themselves elaborate props.  The first group


had made quite complicated paper mache food for the party and brought a baby doll in a stroller.  One of the guests at the party got very drunk, and the others kept trying to take away her beer as she became more and more disruptive.  The second group adorned their table with tablecloths in a Brazilian flag pattern and served real food at their party.  They ended with a patriotic song and dance number that included much flag waving and putting leis of fake flowers around each party guest’s neck.  After they bowed at the end of their scene, they rushed to put their leis around our necks and insisted that we keep them as souvenirs of our visit to the workshop.

We had a fabulous time this morning and are very grateful to members of Teatro Renascer for letting us be a part of their workshop today.  We will carry their hugs, songs, and leis back to the U.S. with us.  Obrigada, Teatro Renascer!  The group’s name makes sense to me now because I feel that I’ve been infused with new life and energy because of the joyous presence of these people in the world.

*This blog post was updated on July 16 to correct a few incorrect facts that were pointed out to me by Professor Carmela Soares.  Thank you, Carmela!


The following portion of this post is made up of reflections from Andy Martínez on the same workshop:

IMG_2157Greetings from The Riviera—This afternoon I sit in a crowded Starbucks in Ipanema waiting for my clothes to dry at the Laundromat around the corner. I’m taking a break from my Brazilian sojourn to sip some Western capitalism—iced tea—as well as my reading of Carson McCullers’ “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter,” in order to offer a few precious accounts of my morning at a hospital in Rio.Singing songs from their prime and playing theatre games that focused on integrating integral motor skills, I trespassed upon an energetic and enthusiastic crew of fifteen 60-to-90-year-old people in their weekly class.

My love-cup was filled when I sat down to observe the golden-aged practitioners improvise one-by-one across the room in collaboration with a live flautist. Using their hips, legs and arms like fine brushes, the aged dancers painted a breathtaking portrait of grace at an advanced age. The sounds of the flute responded to every staccato, legato, and accented efforts made by each respective dancer.

We finished the class in a circle dance. We held hands. We rocked backward and forward perhaps to songs of their youth. We picked up the tempo and began to rotate our circle counter-clockwise, maintaining our hold to one another.

When we reached the end of the song, the elders took the lead from the UNIRIO undergrad facilitators. Impromptu, they repeated the song’s coda three times, each time adding a greater emphasis to the words, until our entwined hands were thrown into the air in a final exclamation.

What my iced tea, Carson McCullers and I realize here in my air-conditioned cocoon of cacao, is that this last circle game can be more than simply a closing exercise to which a song is sung and steps are repeated. Rather, the song could be an anthem, and the exercise in motor skills could be a celebration of life for these folks. Their conviction certainly supports this theory.

It is my express hope that should I reach the ages of these particular friends that I engage in a similar way. You know, celebrate the everyday? I don’t want to miss that.

Will you join me?

Univ. of Michigan/UniRio Theatre Exchange Program: Day One from Rio de Janeiro

6 Jul

The University of Michigan is beginning a new campus wide exchange program with the Universidade Federal do Estado do Rio de Janiero (also known as UniRio), and I arrived in Rio yesterday to begin a fifteen day trip to explore ways in which Michigan’s Theatre & Drama Department can partner with UniRio’s five various theatre departments, which specialize in directing, acting, theatre education, dramaturgy, and design. Though I am here to help establish as many connections as possible between our departments, I am particularly interested in a program called Teatro na Prisao in which UniRio professors Natalia Fiche and Viviane Narvaes take their students into Brazilian prisons (one men’s facility and one women’s) to conduct theatre workshops.  We are making plans to establish an exchange specifically between the Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP) at Michigan and Teatro na Prisao here in Rio.  PCAP student Renee Gross will be arriving in Rio tomorrow to participate in this exchange and to help me find ways in which our programs can best share our theatre practices with one another.  We will go into the both the men’s and women’s prisons here in Rio with the Teatro na Prisao folks in the days to come during our stay in Brazil.

In the meantime, I’ll be blogging about the highlights of our theatre department’s exchange with UniRio, so regular readers of this blog may not see quite as much about prisons as you are accustomed to finding here over the course of the next fifteen days.  I will, of course, include observations and reflections on the work of Teatro na Prisao once we have seen the work that they are doing.

Jodie Lawston, co-editor of the book Razor Wire Women and co-author of this blog, is here in Rio with me, as is Andy Martinez who is currently pursuing his doctorate in World Arts and Culture/Dance at UCLA.  University of Michigan Theatre & Drama major and actor Liz Raynes is here in Rio participating in the exchange, and Hector Flores Komatsu, a directing student in our department, will arrive tomorrow.  Lighting design student Liz Williams will travel separately to Rio later in the summer to participate in a lighting and set design project at UniRio.

UniRio professor Renato Icharahy, chair of the directing program, is serving as our host, and Andy, Liz, and I were able to observe one of his directing classes this afternoon, after which he introduced us to a number of UniRio faculty and students.  We attended a performance of Afro Brazilian dance this evening on campus, hosted by Professor Zeca Ligiero who runs a program connected to African and indigenous performance.  The dance troupe performed two pieces that evolved out of Yoruba narratives about Orishas and nature.  The athleticism and strength of the male dancers in particular was very impressive, and the audience was invited to participate in the performance when we were handed cups of white paint and small brushes and encouraged to paint on the bodies of the dancers.  (We took pictures of the performance but are having trouble uploading them tonight.  Hopefully we’ll be able to post them later.)

Tomorrow we’ll be going with Professor Marina Henriques and her students to the Mare favela where UniRio faculty and students conduct a weekly theatre workshop.

Sesame Street characters have parents in prison

18 Jun

I didn’t realize that it was possible for Sesame Street to tug at my heartstrings even more than it did when Big Bird got the news that the beloved grocer Mr. Hooper passed away when I was a child in the 1980s.  However, Sesame Street is now addressing one of the great crises that children in this country face today: parental incarceration.  Both a human and a muppet character on the show discuss the pain of having a father in prison, and the Sesame Street website provides a very useful tool kit and activities for caretakers of children with an incarcerated parent.  The tools are designed to help young children, ages 3 to 8, but their lessons are useful for all of us with an incarcerated loved one.

Thank you, folks at Sesame Street, for your attention to this serious issue and your compassion for children grappling with a frightening experience which will undoubtedly shape their lives.

Shaka Senghor on Prisoners and Technology

11 Jun

My dear friend and Prison Creative Arts Project Associate Shaka Senghor gave a talk about prisoners and their lack of access to technology at the Personal Democracy Forum in New York City last week.  Check out the video of his speech on his website.


New Graphic Novel about Prison Grievances

1 Jun

An innovative new resource for prisoners has recently been written by Terri LeClercq, an advocate for incarcerated people in Texas.  LeClercq’s new book, Prison Grievances, is a graphic novel providing instructions on a fifth grade reading level for prisoners who wish to file grievances within the prison system.

For more information, click here.

Shakespeare in Prisons Conference, Nov. 15-16, 2013

28 May

Shakespeare at Notre Dame is pleased to announce the Shakespeare in Prisons Conference hosted by the University of Notre Dame on Friday, November 15, and Saturday, November 16, 2013.

Featuring keynote addresses and film screenings by Curt Tofteland (founding director of Shakespeare Behind Bars) and Tom Magill (founder of the Educational Shakespeare Center and director of the Irish film Mickey B ), the conference aims to bring together artists and educators engaged in transformational arts programs using Shakespeare in prisons across the USA (and the world) for an exploration and study of the effects such programming has on prison populations. The goal is to promote a collaborative learning forum where participants will be exposed to a diverse array of programs that all strive for a common result: the habilitation of the inmate’s mind, heart, body, and spirit.

Departing from the traditional academic conference structure, the Shakespeare in Prisons conference will focus on the craft and experiences of the practitioner—while allowing ample time for one-on-one networking and collaboration.

In addition to the keynotes and film screenings (and Q&A’s), attendees are invited to participate in workshops that explore innovative methodologies, as well as panel discussions that are designed to stimulate discussion about practitioner experiences and best practices within the industrial prison complex.

Registration is $25 and includes a dinner/reception on Friday night, lunch and dinner on Saturday, and admission to all workshops and film screenings. Online registration begins on Monday, June 10 via . More information regarding the conference schedule, lodging information, and the availability of a limited number of bursaries to help with attendee expenses will be made available on June 10. In the meantime, please contact Scott Jackson at  for more information.

We hope that you will join us for this unique gathering of like-minded individuals.

All the very best–

Scott Jackson, Peter Holland, and Curt Tofteland


About the speakers and host:

Curt L. Tofteland  is the founder of the internationally acclaimed Shakespeare Behind Bars (SBB) program. SBB has twelve programs in Kentucky and Michigan. He currently facilitates the adult Shakespeare Behind Bars/Michigan program at the Earnest C. Brooks Correctional Facility in Muskegon Heights and SBB’s first co-gender, court-ordered, juvenile Shakespeare Behind/Beyond Bars programs at the Ottawa County Juvenile Detention Center and the Juvenile Justice Institute. From 1995-2008, he facilitated the SBB/KY program at the Luther Luckett Correctional Complex, producing and directing fourteen Shakespeare productions. His 2003 SBB/KY production of The Tempest  was chronicled by Philomath Films, producing the documentary Shakespeare Behind Bars , which premiered at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival and went on to be screened at 40+ film festivals worldwide, winning eleven awards. He is a national and international speaker, having lectured at over forty colleges and universities across the United States and at TEDx Berkeley, TEDxEast (NYC), and TEDx Macatowa. For his work as a Prison Arts Practitioner he was awarded fellowships from the Fulbright and Petra Foundations, as well as a Doctorate of Humane Letters from Bellarmine University. He is a founding member and past president of the Shakespeare Theatre Association, an international service organization for theatres that produce the works of William Shakespeare. He is a published essayist and poet, currently authoring the book, Behind the Bard-Wire: Reflection, Responsibility, Redemption, & Forgiveness…The Transformative Power of Art, Theatre, and Shakespeare.  From 1989-2008, he served as producing artistic director of the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, producing fifty Shakespeare productions, directing twenty-five, and acting in eight. A trailer for Shakespeare Behind Bars  can be viewed at More information on Curt’s work can be found at

Tom Magill  is an ex-prisoner who transformed his life through arts education while in prison for violence. While incarcerated he met his enemy—and his enemy became his teacher. On release he earned a B.A. (Hons) in Drama and Theatre Studies at the University of Birmingham and an M.A. in Cultural Studies at the University of Leeds. He is an award-winning filmmaker, drama facilitator, actor, writer, director, and producer. He specializes in utilizing Augusto Boal’s “Theatre of the Oppressed” methodology and the works of William Shakespeare in transforming community and prison settings. After training with Michael Bogdanov, he became his and Augusto Boal’s personal representative in Northern Ireland. In 1999 he founded the Educational Shakespeare Company (ESC) to develop drama and film with prisoners and ex-prisoners. ESC is an award-winning arts education charity, empowering marginalized people to find their voice and tell their stories through film. In 2007 he directed Mickey B , an award-winning feature film adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth  cast with prisoners from Maghaberry maximum-security prison. For his film direction he has received the 2011 Justice in the Community Award (from the Northern Ireland Department of Justice), the 2008 Roger Graef Award for Outstanding Achievement in Film at the Koestler Awards (for Mickey B ), the Arthur Koestler Award for Prison Drama in 2004 and 2006 (for Inside Job  and The Big Question , respectively), and the Impetus Human Rights Award in 2005, 2006, and 2007 (for Bridging the Divide ). He has presented his film work in Britain, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Holland, Ireland, Israel, Nigeria, South Korea, and the United States. More information on Tom’s work can be found at A trailer of Mickey B  can be viewed at Peter Holland  holds the McMeel Family Chair in Shakespeare Studies and is the Associate Dean for the Arts at the University of Notre Dame. He is one of the central figures in performance-oriented Shakespeare criticism, served as Director of the Shakespeare Institute at Stratford-upon-Avon before coming to Notre Dame in 2002. He is editor of Shakespeare Survey  as well as a number of other series. Among his books are English Shakespeares: Shakespeare on the English Stage in the 1990s  and a major study of Restoration drama The Ornament of Action . He has also edited many Shakespeare plays, including A Midsummer Night’s Dream  for the Oxford Shakespeare series. In 2007, he completed publication of a five volume series of collections of essays entitled Rethinking British Theatre History . In 2007-08, he served as President of the Shakespeare Association of America. He was elected an honorary fellow at Trinity Hall, his alma mater and one of the 31 colleges that comprise the University of Cambridge. His Arden edition of Coriolanus  was released in early 2013.

Shakespeare at Notre Dame  is a program that recognizes the centrality of the study of Shakespeare in humanistic pedagogy at the University of Notre Dame. The creation of the “Shakespeare Initiative” in 2001 sought to broaden the Shakespeare offerings on campus and establish the permanence of this new tradition for an audience of students, faculty, the South Bend community at-large, and a national and international audience. To that end, the current programs and future prospects that comprise Shakespeare at Notre Dame have created a regional center for Shakespearean scholarship, production, educational outreach, and academic research by enmeshing programs as far-reaching and diverse as Actors From The London Stage, the Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival, visiting guest artists and lecturers, touring productions, and new media library collections; ensuring Notre Dame’s status as a nationally visible—and the Midwest’s pre-eminent—venue for Shakespeare Studies. Find out more at

Straight Talk: A Support Group for Prisoners’ Families in Durham, NC

13 May

Despite the fact that we number in the millions in the U.S. alone, prisoners’ families do not have very many opportunities to come together to share our experiences.  Fortunately, some folks in Durham, North Carolina, have formed an organization to support one another.  Read more about it here.

Michigan Review of Prisoner Creative Writing, Vol. 5

7 May



Every year for the last five years students at the University of Michigan’s Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP) have volunteered to undertake the incredibly unwieldy task of soliciting, receiving, reviewing, and responding to creative writing submissions from hundreds of prisoners throughout the state of Michigan.  Every single person who submits writing receives personalized feedback on his or her work; PCAP sends no form rejection letters.  The result is a remarkable collection of writing called the Michigan Review of Prisoner Creative Writing, published annually in conjunction with the PCAP Annual Exhibition of Art by Michigan Prisoners.  This year’s review is a particularly good one, and I highly recommend it to those of you might be looking for prisoner writing to teach in your courses next year and to those of you who just want something great to read.

To order this year’s review or one from a previous year, use this order form.  Each copy of the review is only $15, and all proceeds go directly back into making the next year’s review.

StoryCorps Interview with a Formerly Incarcerated Mother and Her Daughter

23 Feb

A few years ago I had the privilege of directing an undergraduate honors thesis written by Anita Rao, who was then a senior at UNC Chapel Hill.  Anita took on an ambitious original research project, interviewing formerly incarcerated women in the Triangle Area of North Carolina about the time they spent as part of an arts workshop in a women’s prison in Raleigh.  Anita’s senior thesis was awarded highest honors and now sits in bound form in the UNC library.  Her research inspired me to write an article about the same prison arts workshop for a forthcoming special issue of the academic journal American Music.

After graduating from UNC, Anita went to work for National Public Radio’s StoryCorps program, where I know she is doing wonderful things.  She recently sent me an email with this link to a StoryCorps clip in which a formerly incarcerated mother and her daughter interview one another about their experiences of the mother’s imprisonment.

Thank you, Anita, for the great work you are doing!  We need many more thoughtful young people like you to help bring stories of women and families’ experiences of incarceration to light.

New Beginnings: The Prison Creative Arts Project and the University of Michigan

21 Feb

Those of you who know something about the Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP) might recognize at least one of the very silly people in this picture.

Buzz & Ash

Buzz Alexander–the taller of us–founded PCAP in 1990 at the University of Michigan, and in the years that followed Buzz built this extraordinary program into the largest organization in the U.S. (and perhaps the world) that links university students and incarcerated youth and adults through arts programming.  PCAP sends undergraduates into Michigan prisons, juvenile detention centers, and urban high schools to facilitate arts workshops.  PCAP also hosts the Annual Exhibition of Art by Michigan Prisoners, which displays over four hundred works of visual art from every prison in the Michigan Department of Corrections.  PCAP’s annual literary review publishes writing by Michigan prisoners, and the organizations many workshops host dozens of performances each year.  In fact, last week PCAP celebrated the performance of its 600th play.

Now I have the honor of succeeding Buzz in running this incredible organization.  As of January 1, 2013, I am a new Associate Professor of Theatre & Drama at the University of Michigan and the Director of PCAP, and I am deeply grateful to Buzz and to Janie Paul (the other long-serving member of the PCAP faculty and Buzz’s wife) for the years of preparations that went into the process of getting me hired at Michigan.  Many other people worked very hard to get me to Michigan, including Priscilla Lindsay, chair of the Dept. of Theatre & Drama; Dean Christopher Kendall of Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre, & Dance; and Angela Dillard, chair of the Residential College.  Half of my faculty appointment at Michigan is in Theatre & Drama (the field in which I was trained), and the other half is in the Residential College (RC) where PCAP will soon be moving.

PCAP has long lived in Michigan’s English Department because that’s where Buzz founded it.  Though PCAP will maintain connections to the English Department through Buzz and my husband Phil Christman, who will be teaching as a lecturer in the first year writing program in English, the PCAP’s administrative operations will move into the RC in Fall 2013. The PCAP staff–Sari Adelson, Shannon Deasy, and Vanessa Mayesky–and I will all have offices in the RC, while Buzz and Phil will be the PCAP faculty with offices  in English.  I also have an office in Theatre, and Janie, of course, has an office in Art & Design, which gives PCAP a strong presence on North Campus as well.

Buzz is considering retirement in the coming years but has not set a date for his retirement.  We hope to have a few semesters or years of working together before he stops teaching, though he will never truly leave PCAP or stop participating in its activities. (Thank goodness!)  Though I will undoubtedly do many things differently than Buzz has in the past–because I could never hope to fill his shoes completely–I endeavor to honor the incredible work that he has done and continues to do with hundreds of students, volunteers, and incarcerated people.  Buzz’s main purpose in bringing me to Michigan, and mine in coming here, is to protect PCAP’s sustainability so that this organization can thrive for twenty more years and beyond.

My husband Phil–a writer and former lecturer at North Carolina Central University–will play a significant role at PCAP as well.  Starting with the 2014 issue, he will be the editor of PCAP’s annual Review of Literature by Michigan Prisoners.

We have taken up residence in Ann Arbor, though neither of us will start teaching until Fall 2013.  Though we already miss many friends and colleagues at UNC, we are very happy to be at Michigan and plan to be here for years to come.  The PCAPers, colleagues at Michigan, and our neighbors have done much to welcome us and make us feel at home here. We are grateful for all the good will and kindness that is being shown to us, and we look forward to meeting all of the current PCAPers and to teaching our first Michigan students in the Fall.

Performing at Illinois State Univ. and Lincoln Correctional for Women Sept. 19 and 21

15 Sep

About a year ago, a woman named Sherrin Fitzer contacted me out of the blue, asking if she could get a copy of the script of my play Doin’ Time to share with a group of women in an Illinois prison.  Sherrin works at Lincoln Correctional Center for Women and leads a theatre troupe comprised of incarcerated women; they call their ensemble Acting Out.  Sherrin and I exchanged many emails and conjured up a plan to collaborate.  Janet Wilson, director of the School of Theatre and Dance at Illinois State University in Bloomington, has collaborated with Sherrin and the women of Acting Out for many years, and Janet extended an invitation to me to perform Doin’ Time on her campus.  With support from many corners of the university, including the School of Theatre and Dance, Latino Studies, Crossroad’s Project, Honor’s Program, School of Social Work and the Department of Criminal Justice Sciences, Janet and Sherrin arranged a week-long residency for me:

My time at Illinois State will be very exciting, but what will happen at Lincoln Correctional later that week is the most amazing opportunity I’ve had in eight years of touring with this play.  The women in the Acting Out troupe have read my script and written their own monologues about visitation and families.  Sherrin has been emailing me drafts of their monologues, and in this manner the women and I have been able to respond to one another’s work.  They have written some very powerful pieces, which they’ve been rehearsing with Sherrin.  Doin’ Time‘s director, the incomparable Joseph Megel, will travel to Illinois with me, and we’ll spend all day on Thursday, September 20th in rehearsals inside the prison with the women of Acting Out.  We’ll weave their eleven monologues into my play, and we’ll all perform together on the afternoon of Friday, September 21st for an audience of 150 to 200 incarcerated women.  Two more incarcerated women will run the tech cues for the show.
I have performed in a handful of prisons now in the U.S., Ireland, and Canada, and I’ve seen prisoners perform plays of their own in Michigan, North Carolina, and Louisiana.  I’ve also conducted and participated in improvisational theatre workshops in quite a few prisons, but this will be the first time that I’ve actually performed in a play with incarcerated theatre makers and the first time that anyone ever wrote or performed new material in response to my play Doin’ Time.  I have never performed Doin’ Time with other actors, and though I haven’t yet met any of the women of Acting Out, I am already deeply moved by their words and their willingness to enter into this adventure with me.
If you are going to be near Bloomington this week, please come to the show!  I’ll be posting more about my time in Illinois after my trip there.


Support Resistencia Bookstore in Austin, TX

30 Jun

raulrsalinas and Ashley Lucas

My favorite bookstore in the whole world is a little place called Resistencia in Austin, Texas.  They have a fantastic selection of rare and out of print books as well as a wide variety of titles by Native American, Latina/o, and black authors.  They specialize in literature by people of color, poetry, Southwestern writers, and nonfiction on social justice issues, particularly incarceration.  (Those of you who know me can see clearly why this is my kind of bookstore!)  The books are just the beginning.  A very active and progressive community organization called Red Salmon Arts also resides in this bookstore (which is in truth more of a community center than anything else) and hosts a ton of really exciting readings and social justice events.  If I lived anywhere near Austin, I would be there all the time.

Resistencia’s founder, raulrsalinas (also sometimes written as Raul R. Salinas) was one of the greatest human beings I have ever known, and his life and legacy are honored every day by the work of the good folks who keep Resistencia and its programming going every day.

I first encountered raul’s poetry when I was in high school–about a year and a half after my father entered prison. raul spent many years in prisons all across the US and wrote some of the most enduring poetry of the Chicano Movement from solitary confinement, including his landmark poem “Un Trip Through the Mind Jail.”  His poems were the first pieces of writing that helped me begin to understand what my father experiences every day behind the walls.  raul’s strength, fortitude, and passion for life gave me hope that my father and our family might be able to endure this particular form of devastation.  After he got out of prison, he went home to Austin and spent the rest of his life doing work that served others–those in prison, struggling youth, and the people of his beloved Austin.

I cannot do raul justice through mere description.  Here’s a taste of him performing some of his poetry:

My senior honors thesis when I was an undergraduate at Yale dealt with the subject of poetry written by Latina/o prison–a project inspired by raul’s writings.

By the time I actually met raul in person, I was a graduate student at UC San Diego, living in Sherman Heights–a historic Chicana/o neighborhood in the heart of the city.  The next neighborhood over from mine hosted a Barrio Book Fair in 2004, and raul was one of many distinguished speakers.  I introduced myself to him and told him how much his work had shaped my understanding of incarceration and its impact on communities.  By the end of the day, he had invited me to perform my then very new play about the families of prisoners, Doin’ Time: Through the Visiting Glass, at Resistencia. He was one of the earliest and strongest supporters of the play, and in  hosting my performance, he not only provided opportunities for my work to grow but also introduced me to the incredible community of folks who make up Resistencia and Red Salmon Arts.

raul left this earth in 2008, and those of us who loved him continue to raise his name and honor his life by doing the kinds of community work he taught us to do.  The folks at Resistencia do an unfathomable amount of service for the people of Austin, for youth, for the queer community, African Americans, immigrants, Chicana/os, Native Americans, prisoners, and a whole bunch of other gente, and now in these tough economic times they need our support.  Here are a few things you can do:

  • BUY THEIR BOOKS!  You don’t have to be in Austin to do that.  I order books from them through the mail on a regular basis.  You can also order by phone: (512) 416-8885.  If you are lucky enough to be in Austin, check them out in person:

Resistencia Bookstore
1801-A South First St.
Austin, TX 78704

  •  GET THEIR EMAIL NEWSLETTER! I often learn of new book titles from the newsletter, which is awesome.  It also provides listings of all the exciting events happening in connection with Red Salmon and Resistencia. Like I said, if I lived within driving distance of Austin, I’d be there every week.  Send an email to to sign up for the newsletter.
  • DONATE TO SUPPORT THEIR WORK.  You can mail a check made out to Resistencia Bookstore to the above address or use their PayPal account.

Pa’ la gente de Resistencia, with gratitude and admiration.

PCAP Linkage Art Exhibition, April 20 to May 5, 2012 in Holland, MI

23 Apr

The Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP) is an amazing program at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, that takes undergrads into prisons, juvenile facilities, and urban high schools throughout Michigan to conduct collaborative arts workshops.  One of their other programs, the PCAP Linkage Project supports formerly incarcerated artists, writers, actors, dancers, and musicians who worked with PCAP during their imprisonment.  Working with returning citizens is far more difficult than working with folks in prison.  Though life in prison is terribly unpleasant, the incarcerated don’t have to worry about where their next meal is coming from, how they’ll find work and make an income, or where they will sleep that night.  Returning citizens often find the free world very changed from what they knew before they entered prison, and those of them who became artists while in prison struggle to continue working creatively after their release because other concerns take precedence over the desire to make art.

On April 5, 2012, the PCAP Linkage Project held an amazing conference, organized by staff member Heather Wilson, for formerly incarcerated artists.  I had the privilege of getting to attend the day’s events in Detroit, meet the artists, and see some of their work.  Many of the artists brought drawings and paintings to the conference, and all the works of art collected that day are now on display at the Ridge Point Community Church at 340 104th Avenue in Holland, MI.  (That’s in the western part of the state, not far from Grand Rapids.)  Click here for more information about the exhibition which runs from now until May 5, 2012.  If you’re out in that neck of the woods, don’t pass up the opportunity to see these wonderful works of art.

Call for Stories from Children of Incarcerated Parents

9 Apr

Denise Johnston of the Center for Children of Incarcerated Parents and Megan Sullivan of Columbia University are putting together a book of stories written by adults who experienced the incarceration of a parent when they were children.  Please contact them directly for more information.

Call for Stories from Children of Incarcerated Parents

Are you an adult who experienced the incarceration of your parent as a child?  Are you interested in sharing your story, in your own words, with others?

Do you have an adult child who experienced your incarceration?  Would your adult child be interested in sharing his/her story with others?

We are editing a book of life stories by adults who had a parent in jail and/or prison when they were growing up.   The book will describe adult perspectives on parental incarceration.  This will not be a book ABOUT children of incarcerated parents, it will be a book BY adults who experienced the incarceration of a parent as children.

There is no requirement that contributors have ever lived with their incarcerated parent.  There is no requirement that contributors have ever had an active relationship with their parent who has been in jail or prison.  We are particularly interested in stories from individuals who have been involved in the juvenile or criminal justice systems themselves.

We will provide editorial assistance to help contributors write the story they want to tell.  Contributors can send us their written work electronically or by mail.

Individuals who are interested in sharing their stories and participating in this important project can email or write to us at:


Denise Johnston & Megan Sullivan
c/o Center for Children of Incarcerated Parents
Box 41-286
Eagle Rock, California 90041        

Please contact us by June 30, 2012.  We look forward to hearing from you!

Free Legal Information Clinic, April 21, 2012 in Durham, NC

19 Mar


Sponsored by North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services, Inc.

 North Carolina Bar Association’s Professionalism Committee

N.C. Advocates for Justice – Civil Rights Section

The Durham and Orange Prisoners’ Resource Roundtable


10:00 AM –12:00 PM


Main Library
300 N. Roxboro Street
Durham, North Carolina 27701

For more information, please call (919) 856-2200

Free legal consultations about civil legal matters governed by N.C. law will be offered at this clinic for people who have been formerly incarcerated or, for organizations that serve the formerly incarcerated community.  Volunteers will be available to provide general information about legal issues or refer you to an agency or organization that can provide the information you need.  The volunteers cannot offer to represent you, but, if you are eligible, you may be referred to one of the legal or social service agencies in the Raleigh/Durham area to seek additional assistance and/or representation.


Please bring all of the documents concerning your legal problem to the Clinic

For additional information and assistance, please visit

The Pendulum Foundation, Seth Ford, and the New Age of Community Organizing; a post by Ashley Lucas

28 Feb

On the morning of the first day of the 2012 Prisoner’s Family Conference in Albuquerque I had the good fortune to sit down next to really smart and very kind man named Seth Ford.  He’s a social media consultant who spent five years as a political lobbyist.  A series of events in his personal life led him to become concerned about the toll that violence and incarceration take on so many communities in the United States.  He now lives in Denver and works for an amazing organization called the Pendulum Foundation, which works to end juvenile life without parole in Colorado.  He also blogs about this and other juvenile justice issues on his website

From 1992 to 2005, kids could be given a sentence of life without parole in the state of Colorado.  The legislature came to its senses in 2006 and ended this barbaric sentencing practice, but because the change in law was not retroactive, the fifty children who had already been sentenced to life without parole remain in the system.  Now all of them are adults who have never lived independently outside a prison.  What kind of nation believes that people who are too young to be trusted to vote, drink, or serve in the military should be judged unfit to live among us for the rest of their lives?  As I wrote in an earlier post about the sentencing of Laurence Lovette, giving life sentences to young people is a poor investment in the future of our children, our country, and our public safety.  The Pendulum Foundation’s battle against juvenile life without parole is vital.

At the Prisoner’s Family Conference Seth Ford led a workshop entitled “Community Organizing.”  I’ve always prided myself on knowing a thing or two about community organizing.  I’ve marched, demonstrated, leafleted, petitioned, been to sit-ins, and done my share of street theatre.  I can sing “We Shall Overcome” with the best of them, but I had no idea how to do the kind of community organizing that Ford was teaching at this conference.  He showed an enraptured (and Luddite) audience how to use Twitter to reach an audience as broad as a local news outlet, which is precisely what he’s done for the Pendulum Foundation.  His Twitter handle is @PolitiComm, and thanks to him I’m now @razorwirewoman.  I have a deep mistrust of the sound byte levelof information that can be conveyed in 140 characters, but I have learned that tweets can lead folks to sources of information that provide more context, like blogs and other websites.

I’m still a deep believer in the power of live interaction, in sitting in and demonstrating for justice, but I’m learning the power of electronic media to connect us to those whom we cannot reach directly.  Thanks, Seth.  The next time you need a friend to march beside you I’ll repay the favor.

Screening of Burning Bridges, a Documentary Film on Restorative Justice, March 10 in Durham, NC

27 Feb

R e s to r a t i v e     J u s t i c e

Free Community Education and Networking Event



(35 minutes)

          A documentary film that shows how restorative justice and the traditional court process

can work together to create a meaningful outcome  in response to an injustice.

 Six high school seniors burnt down an historic covered bridge in a small town.

Burning Bridges documents the Restorative Justice Conference in response to that crime.

Audience members will see many aspects of the entire Restorative Justice process.


Q and A and Networking to follow the film.

3:00pm Saturday, March 10 2012


Durham Main Public Library, Roxboro Street

Go to:  Durham Restorative Justice Project Facebook for more information

If Walls Could Talk: A Mural Project with Incarcerated Mothers and Their Children, a post by Ashley Lucas

3 Jan

My former student Jamila Reddy just sent me this link to a website about a proposed mural project with incarcerated mothers at Riker’s Island and their children.  The incarcerated mothers will create an image which their children will paint in East Harlem, and the children will create an image which their mothers will paint inside the prison.  The video on the website shows artist Katie Yamasaki’s incredible previous mural work, which is very socially engaged.  She has collaborated with communities of women all over the world, and this project promises to produce amazing results as well.  Yamasaki is trying to raise the funds necessary to make these murals a reality.  This is the kind of place where I wish my tax dollars were going.  Very few activists or artists have such excellent ideas for connecting communities separated by prison walls.  Yamasaki’s efforts are inspiring and inspired.  Do not miss the chance to support this incredible work!


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