Images courtesy of Peter Mertz
Prison Renaissance restores communities by using arts, media, and technology to connect incarcerated people to the communities that need them.
- To use art and community to create a culture of transformation to end cycles of incarceration
- To inspire community engagement among incarcerated people as a step toward successful reintegration into society
- To create proximity between the general public and incarcerated people
- To publish a quarterly literary journal showcasing the writing, visual art and poetry of incarcerated artists
Centering the voices of incarcerated people is paramount to ongoing debates regarding criminal justice reform and our work is creating a cultural shift that celebrates the insights of incarcerated people in activist and creative circles. Prison Renaissance is dedicating to creating, testing and spreading new models of incarcerated leadership, artistic practice, and academic work. Briefly, our models are as follows:
We are changing the very model of rehabilitative programming by handing the leadership and responsibility of transformation to the people who are being transformed. Instead of free allies “granting” access to the incarcerated, we are a true collaborative effort, learning how to navigate barriers of separation, dearth of technology, and bureaucracy together. The model that Prison Renaissance is building demonstrates the feasibility and necessity of allowing incarcerated artists and activists to lead their own movements. We want this model to spread into other criminal justice and prison reform organizations by clearly articulating the tendency for well-meaning free allies to exclude incarcerated people from their efforts. Our work shows a successful solution to this problem and creates an ethical mandate to adopt our leadership model or develop another.
We are committed to writing and publication in order to mitigate the isolation of incarceration and reveal the humanity of those behind bars. Through collaboration and exposure, free participants in our organization will experience a change in mindset regarding incarceration and criminal justice, prompting them to advocate for prison reform and abolition, and helping participants with incarcerated loved ones to fight against the stigma of this association.
Prison Renaissance provides a platform for incarcerated authors to grow as leaders by building personal and professional connections to support artistic and personal growth by coordinating mentorship and collaboration between our free and incarcerated audiences. Strong leaders develop organically within the healing, empathy building, and self-reflection of writing and art. Publication and collaboration cultivates confidence and professionalism and connects our contributors to a community of incarcerated and free authors.
A huge step mobilizing the empathy borne of education and exposure to incarcerated artists into political action comes from centering incarcerated voices in honest conversations about incarceration in schools and universities. For this reason, Prison Renaissance has established university chapters at Stanford and UCLA, with more being formed at Georgetown and UCSF. Our chapters campaign for universities to incorporate the work of incarcerated authors in coursework and will bring incarcerated voices to their campuses by hosting live poetry readings, lectures and dialogues with call-ins from incarcerated authors. By placing incarcerated voices at the forefront and emphasizing the healing power of communication through art, Prison Renaissance hopes to affect material change in the mindset of teachers, professors, and students towards criminal justice and incarceration and to encourage artistry and leadership among incarcerated people.
What is Prison Renaissance?
An inaugural editorial featuring the full history of Prison Renaissance can be found here.
The Renaissance of the 1400s brought the rebirth of reason in Europe, and the 1920s saw the rebirth of African-American art & literature in the Harlem Renaissance and its echoes.
Prison Renaissance began with a group of incarcerated artists who experienced a rebirth of their human values. Artistic expression changed the way they see themselves. Art and education will allow them to help change how other incarcerated people see themselves — as citizens and community builders instead of outsiders and burdens. We hope that community engagement among incarcerated people will change how the public views its incarcerated population — the largest in the world.
Co-founder/Editor: Emile DeWeaver
Co-founder: Rahsaan Thomas
Co-founder: Juan Meza
Editor/External Communications: Camille Griep
Editorial Interns: Natasha Grivas, Elizabeth Stensrud
Art Coordinator: Orlando Smith
See our Mentorships & Collaborations page for a growing list of participating writers and artists.
Prison Renaissance is not associated with any Department of Corrections.