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 USF.
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 in 2018. 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.
Prison Renaissance at UCLA has designed an innovative curriculum that we intend to pilot at schools in California, with the intent of spreading the model to other schools. In this project, high school English students will be paired with incarcerated writers for a semester-long collaborative writing project. This in an opportunity to reach students who are disengaged from traditional language arts curricula and deepen their respect for creative writing. The particular nature of these partnerships will encourage students to examine incarceration as a personal and social issue. We hope this project will provide a way for students who have loved ones behind bars to work through some of the stigma attached to incarceration, which can leave loved ones on the outside feeling isolated and ashamed. At the end, the top essays will receive prizes and all the pieces will be published in our literary journal.
Another major goal of Prison Renaissance is to restore civic engagement in incarcerated communities. Chapter members at Stanford are gathering signatures to have the Voting Restoration and Democracy Act of 2018 on the California ballot. This act, conceived by co-founder Rahsaan Thomas, will restore voting rights to people who are incarcerated or on parole in California. This political effort shows the strength of our commitment to collaboration and demonstrates the ways that connections formed through artistic practice can be mobilized for political change. Additionally, Stanford filmmakers are documenting this work and interviewing activists and scholars (both incarcerated and free) about VRDA. This footage will be turned into a zine and a short documentary that will be published on all Prison Renaissance platforms, shared at live events, and will form the content for a special issue of our magazine.
If you’re a teacher looking for opportunities to start dialogues about prison reform, Prison Renaissance wants to give you a powerful conversation starter for your classroom: compelling essays, fiction, poetry, interviews, and profiles written by incarcerated people. Our growing collection ranges from literature worth studying for artistic excellence to essays that provide new angles for traditional course subjects. Not only does the work make for engaging coursework but research suggests that compelling, educational content by one incarcerated person can increase readers’ empathy for all incarcerated people.
Support prison reform, register with Prison Renaissance and connect with free resources to bring incarcerated people’s work to your class.
For more information, please contact Camille Griep at prisonrenaissance@gmail with the information below.
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Please summarize your curriculum and how you might incorporate incarcerated people’s work.
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