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Cinema & the Arts as Sermons: Art by the Incarcerated

Updated: Jul 25, 2023

Art by the Incarcerated

"Inmates at Maine's state prisons, many of whom are facing decades behind bars without a chance of parole, are finding new purpose through creative expression, making artwork and crafts for sale outside of prison walls. Correspondent Nancy Giles reports on a program that correction officials say has reduced recidivism dramatically." from video introduction.

"...Using art in prison to build resilience Creating art, whatever type of art, helps a person express themselves. For many inmates, drawing or writing their feelings down helps them learn healthy forms of self-expression. During this uncertain time, with an increased physical health risk and no family visits, this couldn’t be more important for our prison populations. Women Wonder Writers’ program, The Write of Your L!fe Beyond Bars is a cultural art and mentoring program that helps those incarcerated write books, poems, and create paintings, to transform their idle time into opportunities to dig deeper and practice healthy forms of self-expression. With cultural arts and group mentoring programs, inmates can explore childhood traumas in a supportive environment. As they create art with their own hands, they reestablish their worth and regain a sense of purpose. Before an inmate can even discuss a parole date with a parole board, there is a ton of inner-work to do, but it starts with learning how to express themselves in a new way. It starts with art. And when they get better at self-expression, they begin to describe why they did what they did, understanding their triggers. They can work through those triggers and now finally express themselves in a way where they no longer have to repeat the same choice. But during COVID, just like everything else, many art in prison programs have stopped. The Write of Your L!fe creates video content for prison sites For the last several months, Women Wonder Writers has been busy adapting The Write of Your L!fe Beyond Bars, to reach those incarcerated during the pandemic. The Write of Your L!fe Beyond Bars serves students in California City Correctional Facility, California State Prison: Centinela, Central California Women’s Facility, and Chuckawalla Valley State Prison. These students are at higher risk for transmission of COVID-19, making trauma-informed correctional care quite possibly more critical now than pre-pandemic. There are nearly 40,000 inmates in California prisons serving life sentences. The Arts in Corrections program, which was established by the California State Legislature and modeled after the Prison Arts Program launched at Vacaville’s California Medical Facility by the William James Association, initially was designed to improve the quality of the prison experience for both inmates and staff, as well as encourage better institution-community relations. In partnership with CDCR, California Arts Council, and Arts in Corrections, Women Wonder Writers continues to bring art in prisons as they create almost two dozen alternative programming videos for DRP-TV – video programming that appears in various prisons across Southern California. For Women Wonder Writers Executive Director, Debra Mares, it was simple..

“Art helps the passage of time, which can be especially painful while incarcerated and even more so when family visits are stopped. When a pandemic puts a pause on these things, which have proven benefits to inmates, staff and taxpayers, such as improved self-confidence and self-discipline to reducing institutional violence, we recognized the need to act quickly. It wasn’t an option to halt our support because of a pandemic.” -Debra Mares, Executive Director..." from the article: Helping the Incarcerated Hurt by the Pandemic: The Importance of Bringing Art in Prisons

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