“For the past 10 years the Actors Gang Prison Project has been working with incarcerated men and women in the California Department Corrections and Rehabilitation..
We are not there to do plays.
We are not there to turn them into actors.
There is way too much unemployment in the profession to recommend it as a way to make a living when they are released.
We are there to introduce the rigorous discipline and generosity it takes to create together.
We are there to provide a safe environment for incarcerated men and women to express emotions that have been long dormant or deadened by their incarceration. In our classes our students play characters and through these characters they discover shared emotions. I have witnessed transformations in these rooms. I have seen these broken men and women heal. I have seen shut off, cynical people turn into sentient compassionate human beings. At some point in the process usually 5 classes in our teachers will take the characters to a funeral of one of the characters. 20 men or women on stage looking at the dead body of one of the characters. We ask them to quietly say goodbye to their friend. There is a collective state of sadness in these hardened souls. They have been to these funerals. Or worse yet they could not attend a funeral of their mother or sister or brother because of their incarceration. Tears well up in their eyes and the person leading the class says, “now look at each other.” This is always a profound moment. It is the moment when barriers break down, when former adversaries in real life bond over the loss of a loved one. They look in each others eyes and they see someone they haven’t seen before. A vulnerable injured human being. They comfort each other. They understand that they are not alone in their loss. They feel empathy.
The work creates a bond that many say is a bond far deeper than the bonds that they had in their gangs or with friends that they used to run with.
This bond, this empathy breaks down gang barriers, racial barriers.
We see these barriers break down first in class and then as they take these bonds out of the room we see these barriers break down on the yard..
A recent study says that there is an 89% reduction in 115s (in prison infractions) for the men and women that participate in the Actors Gang Prison Project. This reduction in violence makes things not only safer for the incarcerated but safer for the Correctional Officers. This work leads to an environment that is less punitive and more rehabilitative.
It encourages teamwork, support for each other. Collectivity, community, better relationships with family, and leads to a significant reduction in recidivism . Preliminary studies suggest a 10,6% recidivism rate for our students.
Now if I were a representative of a pharmaceutical company sitting here before you and I were to say that I have discovered a drug that readuces recidivism and inprison violence by large percentages , that wdrug would be on a fast track for approval and millions of dollars would be allocated out of the State budget for its use in prisons. Well we have that drug. It is the arts.significantly and Reduce recidivism and in prison violence that drug would
I am an example of the benefit of arts funding. As a 14 year old I faced a difficult challenge. Not doing well in school. I FOUND THEATER. Gave me self-confidence. Made me feel good about myself and made me get up to go to school every day. I could easily have fallen into another way of living. Dropout drugs and prison like friends of mine. Instead I took the path offered me by creative artists that taught me in public high school instead of Sing Sing I wound up in a prison called Shawshank and that tip to the penitentiary paid the federal government back for my arts education to the tune of two million dollars in federal income tax in 1994.
You see, investing in a arts education is an investment in the safety and health of society. It should be no surprise to any of us that most of the incarcerated men and women that we qwork with have had little to know arts education in their schooling.
a 2012 National Endowment for the Arts research study concluded that teenagers and young adults who come from a low socio-economic background and have a history of in-depth arts involvement show better academic outcomes than their peers who have less arts involvement. Specifically, students with high arts involvement had higher test scores, better grades, were more likely to graduate from high school and attend college, participated in student government and extra curricular activities at a higher rate, and were more likely to have volunteered recently were more likely to vote or participate in political campaigns. Think about that. The more you fund the arts the more young people will be volunteers for your next re-election campaign.
Arts Ed is the prescription for the transformation of a failing system. Building more jails will not make us safer. Building better schools will. And all we know that better schools have robust art programs. Art programs in correctional settings have an incredible impact. The same is true for the arts in community settings – where local arts programs make cities and towns safer… helping to break the “school to prison” pipeline. This work is led by the California Arts council, the state agency that was given a $6.8 million increase from this committee last year to foster community healthy and safety through local arts grants. I encourage you to champion a return of this $6.8 million as an on going allocation to the arts Council’s budget and as an ongoing commitment to California leading the way in creating more humane and effective policies in correctional and rehabilitation institutions.”