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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By Christopher Zoukis At the University of Washington in Seattle, the Quad recently featured its second annual art exhibition of prisoner’s artwork. Organized by Huskies for Opportunities in Prison Education (HOPE) in partnership with University Beyond Bars and the Monroe Correctional Complex, the exhibition featured visual arts and written pieces, as well as a 6…

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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 abcnews.go.com

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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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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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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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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The art of letter writing and sending out mail with a beautiful stamp may be a bit old-fashioned, yet is still a lovely way to communicate. 

The Prison Library Project is honoring this tradition by having a mail art exhibition on October 2012 and is inviting inmates, families and those who look to improve the lives of incarcerated friends and family to participate in this unique fundraiser. 

The show is titled Postmarked and was inspired by colorfully decorated envelopes from inmates across the country requesting books and dictionaries. These inmates use an envelope as a creative canvas to share their art. 

Postmarked is using the show as a way to remember and reconnect with the magic of mail and lovely postage stamps. The show also is helping the prison population, often an unheard group, share their art in the only medium that they can – with envelope, letter and pen. 

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Creating art, using several types of medium, can have a profound impact on the rehabilitative process for  prisoners.

The Arts in Prison Program, throughout several prisons in Kansas and Missouri, create life changing programs for prisoners – using art.

The Arts in Prison program believes that the practice of art in a group setting can greatly enhance positive thinking habits and and behaviors for prisoners and that these attitudes and self-adjustments can help with successful re-entry into society. 

The mission statement of the Arts in Prison program is to: provide educational and personal growth opportunities through the arts for inmates, volunteers and community to motivate and inspire positive change. This program is designed to induce positive behavioral changes in inmates – this is very profound – as positive change can change imprisoned people into successful, participating, contributing  members of the community that they will be released into. 

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In a first of its kind, an extremely innovative prison project, the San Quentin Film School, became a 7 part series hosted on the Discovery Channel. The San Quentin Film School is a documentary that follows 9 selected inmates incarcerated in San Quentin as they learn the many different aspects and techniques of film making. They are then allowed to view certain aspects of life behind bars in San Quentin through the prisoners eyes.

The San Quentin Film School is the brain child of award winning documentary film director, Bruce Sinofsky. Sinofsky is best known for his documentaries, Paradise lost, Brother’s Keeper and Hollywood High. Sinofsky has won a Directors Guild Award and two Emmys for his films.

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Imagine a way to be able to express yourself in a safe and physical way while incarcerated in prison? That is what The Actors Gang brings to prison inmates incarcerated in Southern California. This group of professional actors are diligently working to keep the arts alive in community, including prisoners, after-school programs and performances for low-budget households. Their mission statement: “The Actors´Gang believes in making live theatre accessible to all, regardless of Financial Ability or Disability.” Beautiful!

The Actors Gang is an educational organization that strives to improve the lives of youth and adults that have challenging economic and social issues to deal with. Their “Dead Man Walking” Play Project engages their students in theology, philosophy and law classes that address the moral issue of the death sentence. The Actors Gang prison project utilizes actor volunteers to help provide in-prison theatrical training to inmates.

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