Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Reaching Inside out : Arts-Based Educational Programming for Incarcerated Women

Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Reaching Inside out : Arts-Based Educational Programming for Incarcerated Women

Article excerpt

Introduction: Moving Toward Wellness

May, together with the other women participants in my arts-based prison workshop, produced works of art to describe her experience of "reaching inside out":

As she closed the door and locked me in I looked toward heaven With feelings of disappointment. Something coming from within me said, "Lord, you created man from dust and you also have given me the gift of creativity."

I then took trash turning it inside out and formed beautiful glowing flowers. This was heavenly creations from God.

This paper uses the metaphor of "reaching inside out" to describe the development of an arts-based educational program in a female prison in a rural area of Florida. The introductory artworks capture the meaning of this metaphor on at least two levels: as an expression of feeling "coming from within" its creator, and as an artistic transforming of the raw materials of experience into "beautiful glowing flowers." Like the other participants, May illustrated the intent of the program, "Moving Toward Wellness: Inside Out," by giving form and expression to personal artistry within a social context. Research on both the female incarcerated population and prison art are needed. These areas are not well represented in art education or educational literature generally.

This discussion is organized with "inside out" frameworks for thinking about prison arts education. An overview of the arts program follows, along with a description of participant profiles. Next, issues involved in "crossing the line" to mobilize change in prison and society are raised. At this point the reader has been metaphorically shifted to the "inside" experience of the workshop. This focus intensifies as dynamics are considered for collaboratively designing and teaching a new prison genre. The role of cultural awareness in transforming personal artistry is examined. Preliminary assessments of the program are shared and practical implications advanced. I conclude on a personal reflective note. Despite this sequencing, I caution the reader not to anticipate a linear development of ideas. As evident from the outset, this paper is concerned with the female prisoner's creative journey. New voices are being represented; these enable different questions to be asked of this journey. The effect may be one of eroding expectations of traditional scholarship and expert-novice relations.

This arts program was inspired by a community outreach workshop that had been successful during its 3-year implementation at another women's prison in Florida. Diane, the movement artist in our present program, had been the teacher of the earlier workshop which continues today at several prisons. Arts programs in California's more liberal prison system meet with particular success. Yet, in spite of these successes, the scenario throughout North America is that rehabilitative programming in women's prisons is seriously under-developed. Expressive workshops, (despite their infancy), meet with resistance and provoke controversy.

Our official project team included a movement specialist (Diane), a creative writing teacher and curriculum designer (myself), and a wellness specialist (all on-site) as well as a program director, an advisor, and two evaluators. The team was mobilized to design and implement a complementary framework of educational and wellness programs as expressed through the arts. A prison classification officer and an assistant superintendent met with the official team to share objectives and to help organize the program. These links created a partnership between a prison and department of corrections and included, through its affiliations, other activists seeking knowledge of arts programs.

Team players embodied the "inside out" tension, either living its struggles and joys or evaluating its potential for replication. Because we, the teachers, recognized the therapeutic challenge and value of this work, the support of a psychiatrist was obtained. …

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