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Prison Arts To Enrich Inmates' Lives Via Art

Heights Editor

Published: Thursday, September 13, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01

This year, the Boston College Arts Council is introducing a new program, one geared at bringing arts education to the incarcerated. The Prison Arts Outreach Program will bring BC students to two women’s prisons in Framingham, Mass. to teach workshops in various areas of the visual and performing arts.

The idea for the program started a few years ago when Crystal Tiala, chair of the Arts Council, started the Arts for Social Responsibility Project, one facet of which was Theater of Hope, a program that brought theater to at-risk youths. A chaplain at Massachusetts Correctional Institution Framingham, Maureen Clark heard about the program and asked Crystal to do a similar thing at the prison. For the past few years, some BC students have been participating in this project, doing theater with inmates at both MCIF and South Middlesex Correctional Center.

“This is the first year that the program has been formalized,” said Jennifer Martin, graduate assistant for the Prison Arts Outreach Program and GSSW ’13. “It’s being sponsored through the Center for Student Formation, who is hosting the program and making it more formal and broadening it from just theater to the arts in general.”
The program will be a part of Fully Alive, the Catholic chaplaincy program run by Clark.

Martin hopes to have a team of about 18 volunteers solidified by the middle of next week.

“We had a great return, really thoughtful student applications, and phenomenal interviews,” she said.

The student volunteers will be put into groups, and these groups will design the workshops they will teach to the inmates. Each workshop is supposed to last three weeks, one session per week.

 “So it’s more on a cyclical schedule, so there’s really an opportunity for there to be a focus to each workshop cycle, whether its poetry or theater or dancing or singing, and students can take ownership or that kind of thematic development,” Martin said.

While the Prison Arts Outreach Program is starting at the two women’s prisons in Framingham, Martin sees potential for expansion in the future.

“Right now the program is trying to start off small so that it does what it does well. There are definitely opportunities to expand to other prisons because there is such a great need for this work,” Martin said.

Through her past volunteer work bringing theater to incarcerated populations, Martin has seen the positive impact exposure to the arts can have on inmates.

“[I] pretty continually heard ‘This is the first time I’ve laughed in years, this is the first time I’ve felt like I was present in my body for awhile,’” Martin said. “And at first coming from my social work background, I was kind of conscious of maybe they’re giving me the answer I want to hear, but after doing this for over 30-40 workshops … realizing the reality … that, in an institutional system like the prisons, they’re constantly on guard, they’re constantly trying to follow rules, and it’s very dehumanizing. And so many of them become defined by their crime or by their sentence or by their identity within the prison system and realizing how impactful that can be … it’s not until it’s been continually repeated to me that I’m realizing it must be true, because I’m hearing it from all these different groups that are telling me such affirming things.”

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