Prison Shakespeare Programs Have Dramatic Impact on Inmates

By Christopher Zoukis Prison might be the last place you would expect to see a great performance of Shakespeare. But for more than a decade, Marin Shakespeare Company in California has taught Shakespeare in several prisons, and to rave reviews. In 1989, the company launched to reinvigorate Shakespeare in Northern California, but has expanded its

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The Art of Michael Skakel

By Dianne Frazee-Walker

53-year-old Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel is now a free man. Skakel was released from prison in November, 2013 after over a decade stint for allegedly murdering his 15-year old Greenwhich, Connecticut neighbor, Martha Moxley in 1975. Skakel’s freedom resulted from a judge ruling that his attorney was negligent during his murder trial.  Michael Skakel / Photo courtesy

Skakel did not let any grass grow under his feet during his incarceration. In fact, Mr. Skakel discovered a hidden talent to fill his time behind bars. He was a prolific contributor to Connecticut’s Prison Arts Program.

Mr. Skakel took advantage of his situation and turned his sentence into an artist’s dream. He had one benefit most artists would envy: Abundant time to experiment with art.

Mr. Skakel’s artistic ability evolved from stick figures on the outside world to unique expressions of his imagination on the inside world.      

Jeff Greene, 45, was Mr. Skakel’s art instructor in prison and is the director of Connecticut’s Prison Arts Program. Greene boasts that Skakel produced “hundreds of artworks” during his incarceration. At least 18 of Mr. Skakel’s works have appeared in shows that Mr. Greene curates to bring inmate art to the attention of the outside world.

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Blogging Poetry from Behind Bars

By Jean Trounstine

Prisoners have long written poetry from inside the prison walls. For incarcerated men and women—as for all who have the urge to write poetry—Robert Frost’s words ring true: the poem “begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness.” Poetry is the need to express what’s locked up inside, and for the prisoner, the bars are real.  Photo courtesy of

Sending a poem into the blogosphere is, however, a relatively new way for prisoners to find their voice. Boston University’s Robert Pinsky, a former U.S. Poet Laureate, says in an interview on Big Think that prisoners serving a life sentence often write the best poetry since they have a lot of time to reflect and read. While many poems by prisoners wouldn’t make it past your high school English teacher, some talented jailed New England poets are emerging online. 

The Massachusetts Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild publishes poetry once a month from those first published in its Mass Dissent magazine. The power of poetry is what helped Douglas Weed, incarcerated at MCI Norfolk, to dig deep into his crime and his subsequent remorse is not unlike Raskolnikov’s soul searching in Crime and Punishment. Here is Weed’s Ode to a Prison Prophet from October 2012:

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Children's Prison Arts Project

Incarcerated juveniles often see the world through the adult correctional institution. Juveniles respond differently to correctional methods than do adults.

From Houston, Texas comes this positive and innovative art therapy program – Children’s Prison Arts Project. Founded in 1994 by an artist and educator, Birgit Walker, the Children’s Prison Arts Project has become a non-profit organization dedicated to helping at-risk youth and incarcerated  juveniles to express themselves through the arts. Included are visual arts, theater and creative writing.


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Knitting Behind Bars

Tattooed prisoners sitting in the Pre-Release Unit in Jessup, Maryland gather together weekly for the knitting class. What? Male prisoners knitting while incarcerated? What a great visual.

67 year old Lynn Zwerling, founder of Knitting Behind Bars, has found that her passion for knitting and the quiet meditative state that it brings to the knitter was the perfect hobby to bring to male prisoners who suffered from lack of focus, control and anger.

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Mural Arts Program

Graffiti. How do we perceive artistic talent splayed upon city walls and bus stops? Is it graffiti or art and  messages in time?

The Mural Arts Program reaches out to graffiti artists to redirect their artistic energies from destructive energy to making constructive or artistic mural painting. Founded in 1984 as a component of the Philadelphia Anti-Graffiti Network, the organization hired Jane Golden to help them move the program forward.

Ms. Golden was excited by the project and quickly discovered the great talent that graffitis artists had. What Ms. Golden created was a way to take that raw artistic energy and use it for mural-making. Murals can add color and beauty to inner-cities and build self-esteem among the community and certainly within the artists themselves.

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Telling My Story

Whether you wear a prison uniform or college clothes, people all have dreams, hopes, fears and wish to be understood. This became the sentiment from both women inmates at and several college students at Dartmouth College after working together creating a play and subsequent documentary, Telling My Story, about the lives of incarcerated women. 

The 14 female prisoners are spending incarcerated time at the Sullivan County House of Correction in Unity in New Hampshire. The 10 students were enrolled in a community-based learning course at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. For 10 weeks the unlikely combination of Dartmouth college students and Sullivan County prisoners collaborated to create a play that addressed the difficulty of women in prison. 

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Oregon Prison Art

Giving incarcerated inmates a chance to express themselves through art can be a very healing opportunity for prisoners, and often this healing through art can give these prisoners a second chance at life and the possibility of reduced rates of recidivism. 

Artist/prisoners, both men and women, incarcerated throughout the Oregon prison system, create art and through the Oregon Prison Art program – these works of art go on public exhibits throughout the community. And the community has received these works with warm and welcome arms. 

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William James Association Prison Arts Project

Creating art while incarcerated in prison greatly builds the need for self-expression that is sorely missed for prisoners. Many believe that art satisfies an individuals need for creativity, self-expression, recognition and self-respect.

In 1977, a pilot project, called the William James Association Prison Arts Project was begun at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, Ca as a vision from Eloise Smith to bring the magic and mystery of the art experience to incarcerated prisoners. From this vision the Arts-in-Corrections in conjunction with the California Department of Corrections was establish, only to be terminated in 2003, due to budget crisis.

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