Isaac Scott, founder of the Confined Arts, sits in his studio. "Mental health is stigmatized in this space. If I show you the scars of my incarceration, it’s only going to make you have more judgments," Isaac said. "I’m carrying two stigmas simultaneously. You feel like you have to show your best self coming home, wear these masks. You can’t show the trauma. That becomes more emotionally distressing." Art gave him a space to express his emotions
Experts and advocates have long touted the beneficial role of arts programs in the criminal justice system, both as an outlet for incarcerated people to express themselves while behind bars and an important element of the rehabilitation process once they’re released. And while the COVID-19 pandemic may have limited the intimacy of prison and reentry arts programs, many found ways to continue to teach, appreciate and showcase the work of incarcerated artists even during the crisis, by transitioning to virtual and solo lessons.
Yazmany Arboleda (b. 1981) is a Colombian American artist based in New York City. His art practice is always created in collaboration with others. An architect by training, Yazmany activates communities with large scale art projects that seek to build connections across barriers and highlight how linked we are. He believes that art is a verb not a noun.
The Confined Arts has received a grant from the Global Drug Policy Program at the Open Society Foundations for the Claiming the Visual Narrative Public Arts Project. The purpose of the grant is to counter the racist narratives of the drug war through artistic collaboration in New Jersey. The Confined Arts, founded by Multimedia Visual Artist Pastor Isaac Scott of Columbia University, uses a unique methodology of strategic arts engagement to change popular perceptions, build relationships, and foster action towards collaborative community-based solutions.
It is crucial for community-based activists to engage in local and national politics and influence the opinions of elected officials to preserve community values and uphold public safety. As a result of this collaboration, political leaders are more likely to adopt a representational and equitable approach to their policies and governance.
Bop is a hip-hop artist, producer, audio engineer, and composer. His base music is hip-hop, but he is interested in all genres of music. He is 34 years old and is nearing his 10-year anniversary of coming home from prison. Bop’s inspiration for his music comes from his life, relationships, and other artists he looks up to. He would like his music to impact people in a positive way, instill love, happiness, and fun in his audience, as well as highlight different realities and perspectives.
April is Second Chance Month. Second Chance Month is a nationwide effort to raise awareness about the barriers that those with a criminal record face in the United States.
The Confined Arts believes in the power of art as a tool for political and social transformation and is committed to highlighting the role of the arts to: (1) offer second chance opportunities to artists who have been impacted by the criminal legal system, and (2) change the dehumanizing narratives that prevent people from receiving second chances post-incarceration. Art, as a political and social tool, is overlooked and undervalued by leaders who do not utilize arts advocacy tools. TCA believes art should be in every change agent’s toolbox as a means to change perception, build relationships, and foster action. We recognize the importance of deconstructing collateral consequences and making it easier for formerly-incarcerated people to live in a free and fulfilling way.
The Phoenix Players Theatre Group (PPTG) is a performance collective founded by Michael Rhynes and Clifford Williamson, incarcerated men in the Auburn Correctional Facility in central New York. In the words of the group’s founders, “[PPTG] is a transformative theatre community, which utilizes theatre to reconnect incarcerated people to their full humanity.” Even though the group invites several civilian facilitators into its meetings, PPTG is run and operated by incarcerated people. Since 2009, PPTG has held small, tight-knit workshops for two hours each Friday evening, with the aim of creating a space where imprisoned writers and performers can be witnessed, and where they can initiate a process of personal, cultural, and socio-political transformation.
PPTG is a part of the Arts, Justice, and Safety Coalition, a group of arts organizations and programs focused on racial justice, restorative justice, transformative justice, and Criminal Justice Reform.
Shawanna Vaughn is the founder and the Director of Silent Cry Inc., a New York based non-profit organization that takes a holistic approach to aftercare from mass incarceration, gun violence and trauma. They understand that the quality of care is the single biggest factor for impacting and invoking changes and they support affected children and families during and after a challenging period.
Shawanna Vaughn has also worked to raise awareness around Post Traumatic Prison Disorder, underscoring the traumas created by incarceration and calling for training of prison personnel in the basic core competencies of trauma informed mental health care, comprehensive policies for service provision to incarcerated individuals, investments in behavioral healthcare services (including screening, assessment and clinical interventions for trauma) as well as facilitating connection to services post-release.