Prison Arts program helps with re-entry
A panel of ex-convicts said the transition from a life behind bars to becoming productive members of society is never easy, but it has been made even more difficult by the lack of rehabilitation efforts in state institutions.
Members of the group agreed, however, the University's Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP) has provided a mental escape from the difficulties of prison life and, in some cases, encouraged participants in their transitions to society.
The men and women, who were identified by first name only, spoke to the issue of "Re-entry after Prison: How Well are We Living Together" during a Jan. 18 panel discussion in celebration of MLK Day.
Even with a degree and/or a trade skill, the panelists said they had difficulty upon release finding work within corporate institutions.
Jason said he earned an associate's degree while in prison, but that such educational programs since have been dropped from Michigan's prison system.
Jeff told of the lack of social development programs in the prisons, leaving inmates to fill their days playing games and watching television.
All participants had taken advantage of PCAP workshops while in prison and said being able to express their emotions through theater, art or writing gave them hope for the future, as well as some release from frustration, lack of self worth and hopelessness.
"When PCAP came in, it was like bringing manna to the desert," Mary said. "PCAP gives men and women an opportunity to look forward to release." Panelist India said art presents openings in a stifling environment. "Theater allows you to cry and scream," she said. "It's such a helpa life saver."
Many had exhibited their artwork in the annual Prison Art Exhibit on campus staged by PCAP. This spring will be the 10th year for the popular exhibition.
The successes of panelists found after prison only have been through struggle, they said, but each expressed gratitude to the PCAP program for giving them the support they needed to nurture self-improvement, and the strength to overcome the challenges of becoming a member of the general society.
One panelist was awarded a PCAP scholarship to Washtenaw Community College. Another has joined a program as a mentor to other ex-cons in transition. Jeff found the strength and support to begin his own baking business, which he reports is flourishing and growing.
Each had to find his or her own niche in society whether in the arts, business or as an activist for human rights. Each reiterated the need for support from family, society and programs like PCAP while in prison and after release.
Mary, a former "lifer" said, "There are civil rights, human rights and then prison rights. Martin Luther King knew about all these rights because he was willing to be arrested and booked, and endure physical punishment for what he believed in."
For more information on PCAP, visit http://www.lsa.umich.edu/english/pcap/index.html.