I’m reading my poetry again tonight at 8:00pm at the Black Lady Theatre in Brooklyn. To say that I’m excited is an understatement. Since poetry and I found our way back to each other this spring, I have flourished so much in terms of my ability to harness my feelings about difficult situations and turn them into positive creative expressions. I use to write and recite poetry all the time when I was growing up into my early twenties. I kept copiously written journals filled with prose and poetry from the time I was about 13 years old. Then life happened. By the time I was 24, I had two children and the only writing I did for the next ten years was research papers necessary for the successful completion of college and graduate school. While I excelled in that form of writing, I had lost the creative writing that, in many ways, had saved my life.
Whether it is writing, acting, singing, drawing, painting — whatever form of artistic expression comes naturally to you — our creativity can and does rehabilitate us from the emotional erosion that life’s trials and tribulations cause. Rehabilitation through the Arts (RTA) is an organization that was founded in Sing Sing Correctional Facility in the 1960’s who knows this truth all too well.
According to https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rehabilitation_Through_the_Arts, RTA runs innovative creative arts workshops in various aspects of theatre - improvisation, playwriting, devised, physical and technical theatre, Shakespeare studies - along with dance, movement, visual arts, voice, music and creative writing. Incarcerated men and women perform in workshop and full-scale productions of both original and published works. RTA also operates a successful modern dance program for men - the only program of its kind in the nation- (and perhaps the world).
Through creative arts, incarcerated men and women develop their ability to communicate, collaborate, set goals, express themselves and imagine alternate scenarios. Even in the harsh environment of prison, trust and community can build. Incarcerated men and women undergo a profound transformation.
Two research studies have clearly demonstrated the positive effects of the RTA program. John Jay College of Criminal Justice's 2003 study with the NYS Department of Correctional Services showed that RTA participants had fewer infractions and spent fewer days in keeplock than a control group. A 2010 study conducted by SUNY Purchase and the NYS Department of Correctional Services concluded that RTA participants complete the GED earlier in their incarceration, more RTA participants complete educational programs beyond the GED, and that after joining RTA, participants spent an almost three-fold increase in time enrolled in post-GED courses than those who did not participate.
My husband John has faithfully participated in the various theatrical performances that RTA has produced. I have seen how his spirit soars when his creativity is awakened. It’s a beautiful sight to behold and anyone who has attended an RTA production in a prison will attest to the same. We would be foolish to think that the advantageous benefits of the arts that are manifested in the lives of physically incarcerated men and woman in prison could not also be brought forth in the lives of men and women who live outside of prison, but are emotionally incarcerated, nonetheless. I was emotionally incarcerated for many years in my life. It was the power of self-deprecating words of myself and others that hurt me; alternately and more profoundly, thanks be to God, it was the powerful words of different others alongside my own poetry that helped heal me. It’s why I incorporate poetry into every unit of instruction that I teach. Poetry is powerful. There’s something about it that crosses so many societal lines of demarcation and allows the writer, reader, and hearer to feel and see beyond. I believe strongly that part of the restructuring that marginalized communities need in order to revive and thrive includes safe places for artistic expression. We need another Renaissance wherein the artists speak, paint, write, and perform the ashes abc beauty of our people.
I Invite you to come out to tonight’s spoken word, open word, lyrical baptism and partake of that poetic healing, in that Renaissance remnant. Peace.