The Bridging Boundaries Arts Intervention Program uses arts intervention coupled with social work, to bridge the forced separations of populations affected by incarceration.
This program has been in operation since 2005 and has grown to include performance residencies for women at York Correctional Institution; outreaches to York Moms and their children; and youth throughout the Greater Hartford region who have parents in prison.
Women at York Correctional Institution
“Although I knew it was a show, I had no idea what to expect. Heck, even if someone had described it to me in detail I wouldn’t have really known what to expect, not of them. What came to pass was the last thing I expected – empathy, deep-aching heart-breaking empathy.” Dr. Chanley Martin, Yale Forensic Psychology fellow, happened to begin her first day of work at York Correctional Institution on the same day that JDPP’s year-long multi-arts residency’s was doing their culminating performance. This essay about her experience that day won the 2010 Richard Spears, MD, Memorial Essay Contest. Read article here.
A core team of JDPP teaching artists has been working with the women at York Correctional Institution in Niantic, CT since 2005 (which JDPP provides at no cost to the participants or to the state correctional agency) in a series of year-long residencies with the women. The residencies introduce a collaborative multi-arts approach to storytelling and performance, working with the women in dance/movement, autobiographical narratives, and song-making. The residency focuses on building a collaborative arts performance piece with the York women that encourages both a sense of community as well as individual self-esteem, self-expression, and the development of skills that can be applied when the women re-enter mainstream society.
Monthly then weekly classes culminate in a performance piece created by residency participants. Some of the past projects have been the basis and inspiration for The Ensemble’s full-length performance works, Time In, Dreamings and Meditations from a Garden Seat.
Women Beyond Boundaries
JDPP’s multi-arts residency programs at York Correctional Institution has provided the participants with an increased sense of self-confidence and worth, the ability to communicate their thoughts and emotions more effectively, and knowledge of how to create and collaborate, all valuable skills for the workplace. During the course of the residencies, women have discovered or re-discovered the artist within themselves, an important and critical touchstone for them. As JDPP’s residency at York has continued though the years, more and more of the participants have completed their sentences and entered mainstream society. Many have expressed an interest in staying in touch with us so that they might continue to be involved in the process of creative expression introduced to them in prison. We have created the following programs to continue to provide meaningful experiences and employment for this population:
JDPP is partnering with Trinity College students and Community Partners in Action Resettlement House to conduct special arts programming for women living there.
Guest Performing Artists
Several of the women who worked in JDPP’s York Residencies have gone on to participate with JDPP in Ensemble performances in the community. They lend their unique past experiences to the authenticity of the work, and raise awareness of issues concerning incarceration during post-performance talk backs.
The York Moms and Kids Program
Through the work at York Correctional Institution, we have begun to outreach to some of the families of the incarcerated and we have seen what an important bridge the arts can provide between family members inside and outside the razor wire. For example, children have reconnected with their mothers, parents have seen their incarcerated children’s growth and family members have expressed pride in their incarcerated relatives’ accomplishments. As an outgrowth of the families’ performances held during our York residencies, we observed how the arts gave families a new way to communicate. As former York CI Deputy Warden Karen Oien observes about JDPP’s work, “Lines of communication are opened through the arts that cannot be done anywhere else.” As a result, we now have a weekend residency for mothers at York Correctional Institution and their children and community caregivers in collaboration with Families in Crisis Inc. Families have a wonderful arts engagement together during the weekend and children and caregivers have the opportunity to spend the night amidst the beautiful natural environs of the Incarnation Center in Ivoryton, CT. We are hoping to expand this program beyond a once-a-year weekend in the future.
Youth with Incarcerated Parents
Upon completion of the pilot program for the Moms and Kids program, the children who participated in the program unanimously agreed that one of the most significant benefits was being around other children who had a parent in prison. So often, they hide this reality from classmates and friends, for fear of the attached stigmas. Knowing that everyone in the room is facing the same issues is comforting and growth producing. We now work with 5 separate groups of youth with incarcerated parents or loved ones in monthly and weekly residencies throughout the academic year in-school and after school in collaboration with Families in Crisis and the on-site school social workers. Each program culminates in a sharing of original work for family, funders and community partners. A distinctive aspect of this program is the collaborative connection between the teaching artists and social service workers. This program is being evaluated by Diamond Research Consulting.