Tag Archives: justice

Seeking input on building a national prison arts association

5 Jan

Dear friends of The Prison Arts Coalition:

Building upon a new level of cultural awareness regarding the benefits of arts in corrections programs, we would like to know if an expanded national organization would be a valuable asset to you and the work you do.

In these early stages, we feel the association could offer the following to its members:

  • Raise awareness of programmatic efficacy
  • Host national or regional conferences
  • Share best practices
  • Foster community
  • Support, collect and disseminate relevant research
  • Offer professional development opportunities
  • What else can you imagine?

The following 5-minute survey is designed to help better understand the need for a national prison arts association and how it can best serve potential members like you.  Your input is incredibly valuable during this early stage.

National Prison Arts Survey

We are hoping to collect all responses by January 29th.

Thank you for your time!

This survey has been developed with input by an ad hoc steering committee of prison arts advocates and practitioners, including:

Cynthia Gutierrez – Barrios Unidos Prison Project

Ella Turenne – Artist, Activist, EducatorOccidental College

Freddy Gutierrez – Community Worker, Performing Artist

Illya Kowalchuk – Pop Culture Classroom

Jonathan Blanco – Oregon State Penitentiary Hobby Shop

Laurie Brooks – William James Association

Lesley Currier – Marin Shakespeare Company

Nate Henry-Silva – Imagine Bus Project

Nathalie Costa Thill – Adirondack Center for Writing

Treacy Ziegler – An Open Window

Victoria Sammartino – Voices UnBroken

Wendy Jason – Prison Arts Coalition

Alma Robinson – California Lawyers for the Arts

Weston Dombroski – California Lawyers for the Arts


I Wanted To Remind Us We Were People

9 Jan

by Elana Pritchard

About the guest blogger: Elana Pritchard is a cartoonist in Los Angeles.  Before she landed in jail she worked as an animator on Ralph Bakshi’s film, Last Days of Coney Island.  She is currently doing a Kickstarter to finish her animated cartoon, The Circus: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/341471863/the-circus

It’s been about a week since the comics I did inside the LA County jail system were first published in the LA Weekly, and I couldn’t be more pleased with the response.  People from all over the world have written to me expressing their support for what I have done and their contempt for inhumane practices for incarcerated peoples everywhere.  I have been in communication with the LA County Sheriff’s department and they have told me that due to these comics they have issued a new policy that all inmates must be given showers within 24 hours of entering the jail.  We are scheduled to meet next week to discuss further improvements.  And throughout all of this it seems the original, humble message of these comics is sticking: that we were people.  Even though we had a barcode on our wrist with a number and were called “bodies” by the staff, we were still people.

Many people in jail are still on trial and haven’t even been found guilty or innocent yet.  Many people made mistakes that you or I have made before in private, only they got caught.  There were mothers in there that missed their children.  There were kind people in there that cared about the arts and cared about each other.  I drew these comics to make us all laugh and remind us that even though there was a whole group of of people with badges and better clothes than we had telling us we didn’t matter… we DID matter and we WERE PEOPLE.

In that the comics were successful, and for that I am proud.

Elana Pritchard

All images were first published in the LA Weekly, 2015











Prison Galleries: Imagining Justice from the Inside Out

4 Jan

About the guest blogger: Lisa Guenther is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt University.  She facilitates a weekly discussion group with prisoners on death row at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution.  She is the author of Solitary Confinement: Social Death and its Afterlives (forthcoming from Minnesota University Press).

It all began with a word scrawled on paper: ART.

We were sitting in a circle of plastic chairs in Unit 2 of Riverbend Maximum Security Institution.  Every week, members of the community meet with prisoners on death row to discuss topics of mutual interest: the meaning of justice, the injustice of poverty and racism, and the possibilities for personal and collective healing and spiritual growth.  We call ourselves REACH Coalition.  REACH stands for “Reconciling Every human being And Cultivating Humanitarianism.”  But it also refers, quite literally, to our desire to reach across the prison walls, beyond the barriers of social inequality, towards a better world.  On this particular day, we were trying to figure out how to include more people in our conversations.  And the first word that came to mind was art.

It seems like everyone in prison is an artist.  They paint, they draw, they write poetry.  When they don’t have access to standard art supplies, they become even more creative, using toilet paper or white bread to create sculptures like the “mummy” in Derrick Quintero’s diorama or the animals in Dennis Suttles’ barnyard scene.  Richard Odom makes doll furniture out of discarded toilet paper rolls.  He says, “Society has flushed us down the toilet, but we can still make something beautiful with the leftovers.”

Some of the artists in this show have been drawing and painting for as long as they can remember.  Others started making art in prison, as part of their process of self-transformation, or just to pass the time.  Most of the pieces in this show have been made especially for this show, as part of our collective effort to reach out to the public, both to listen and to be heard.  Harold Wayne Nichols put it this way in our discussion the other day: “We may be on death row, and we may never see the outside again.  But the world still matters to us.  When we talk about “us,” we’re not talking about us as individuals, but us as members of society.”

Today, the United States incarcerates more of its own citizens than any other country in the world, and we are the only Western democracy to retain the death penalty.  Is this the society we want for ourselves and for others?  How do we break cycles of violence and find alternative responses to harm?  We invite you to join us in imagining the possibility of transformative justice, both from the inside out and from the outside in.  Let’s REACH for a better world.

Prison Galleries: Imagining Justice From the Inside Out

January 16 – February 14, 2013

Sarratt Gallery, Vanderbilt University

Website and online gallery:  http://rethinkingprisons.wordpress.com/art-from-tennessees-death-row/

The Restorative Revolution

11 Mar
This essay by Elaine Shpungin, Ph.D. was originally posted on 2/15/11 at http://www.improvecommunication.net/. We hope it will inspire some dialogue about the intersections of prison arts and restorative practices. Please share your thoughts.

Call me crazy – but I think we are ready for a Revolution.

I’m talking about a revolution in the way we approach justice, transgression, punishment, crime, and every day conflict among ordinary people. I am talking about the way we treat each other after we hurt each other – even in very deep ways – and the way we treat those who are less powerful than us when “justice” is placed in our hands.

I am talking a transformational, society-wide, lens-shifting, all-affecting revolution the scale of the 1960’s civil rights and women’s rights movements, a revolution in how we think about who we are and how we live, work, and love together.

Not a solution to everything. Not panacea, utopia, peace and love for all. But a fundamental shift in the collective understanding of what might be possible.

I feel it in my bones, like the rumble of a train coming down the tracks way before you see its lights appear from behind the bend.

People are sensing the heavy creaking of the current justice system, the way it is over-burdened and under-humane, the way it takes our sons and daughters and nieces and nephews and puts them back into our communities more hardened and less integrated than they were before, the way it creates rifts among us, decreasing rather than increasing the sense of safety for which we all long.

And people are becoming dissatisfied with the way we inadvertently replicate that same model in our homes, with people most precious to us, and in our communities, the places where we spend our waking hours.

I work with a lot of communication modalities and I have been talking to people about empathy and healing and dialogue for a long time.

But when I mention the restorative practices work in which I am involved, people respond with the kind of excitement, the kind of energy I have not seen before. Their eyes light up. They smile.  They want to learn more. They want to get involved.

I am talking about people across all economic, class, age, and race differences: administrators working in the formal justice system and grandmothers of boys in the local jail, academics and activists, rabbis and conservative ministers, teachers and parents, college students and poets. When I share what might be possible, there is a spark, an electrical surge of hope.

And what is possible is a way of doing conflict and justice in which each voice and each side gets heard, in which people who have been hurt get to ask their toughest questions and those who have caused pain get to experience the impact of what they have done and come out feeling more human, not less. What is possible are solutions to conflicts that are not believable until you hear them, that stem from human creativity that is untapped by the current way we do things, and are agreed upon by everyone who is impacted by the conflict.

Restorative practices, as ancient as human society, have been making their way back into our collective knowledge. Some of them, like the Restorative Circles practice which I have been learning, are laced with a modern edge, an edge forged in the fires of inner-city Brazilian favelas where drugs, gun violence, racialized tensions and numbing poverty overlay the struggle for daily survival.

And that is what makes the possibility so palpable. There is another way and it works. It works to re-humanize people to each other in the most trying of circumstances across deeply etched lines. In a place where unbelievable beauty and unbelievable disparity go hand in hand, restorative practices are growing and being embraced by school districts, youth courts, youth prisons, neighborhoods and homes, presidential candidates and major news networks. Restorative Circles are winning awards and changing circumstances, changing lives, changing how people think about and live with conflict.

Not a solution to everything. Not panacea, utopia, peace and love for all. But a fundamental shift in the collective understanding of what might be possible.

A Restorative Revolution.  It’s coming.

Wanna get on board?