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Michigan Prison Art Project

176 original plays created by prisoners in 18 Michigan prisons, another 107 in 4 juvenile facilities. 39 readings of original work in the prisons, 16 in the juvenile facilities, 40 anthologies. 9 Annual Exhibitions of Art by Michigan Prisoners: in the most recent, 205 artists exhibited 343 works of art, 67 percent of the artists sold at least one work, 4,191 people walked through the gallery, each artist received a packet including responses in the visitors' book and reviews, each prison received an hour and a half video including the opening reception and a view of each work of art. 6 annual exhibitions by incarcerated youth. 25 portfolios of writing and art created through one-on-one work with incarcerated youth. 36 formerly incarcerated adults and youth linked up with community arts mentors. These are some of the accomplishments of the Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP) and of the incarcerated with whom they have collaborated since January 1990, when the first theater workshop began at the Florence Crane Women's Facility in Coldwater, Michigan.

PCAP is based at the University of Michigan. Most members enter through one or more of three courses: Janie Paul's Art 454 (art workshops in prisons) and my English 310 (workshops in the arts with incarcerated and high school youth) and 319 (theater workshops in prisons, juvenile facilities, and high schools). Students are trained to work in teams of two or three. They read and are guided by such authors/practitioners as Paulo Freire, Myles Horton, and Herbert Kohl, they write weekly journals, have weekly full-class and small team meetings, go to their sites once a week for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, participate in a final performance or presentation, and write a final analysis of their experience. Students learn to work: with respect for everyone at the site; with unyielding belief in the ability of workshop members to pull up their talents, work together, and arrive at a final presentation; and through a process of discovery - our work opens a creative space that was missing, and in that space we discover together both content and form. Students learn that they will not survive if they fail to obey rules and regulations of the institution; they learn the virtues of everyday courtesy, humor, and scrambling.

After this beginning, students join PCAP and continue with workshops and engage themselves in the Annual Exhibition, the Portfolio and Linkage Projects, our Speakers Bureau, our When Can We Talk? Project (collaborations with prisoners who have come home), and other efforts. Members who leave Ann Arbor become PCAP Associates; they stay in touch, give advice, and share their various social justice work. Former prisoners speak and serve on panels at the Annual Exhibition, speak in classes, participate in our Linkage and When Can We Talk? Projects, and serve on our National Advisory Board.

Colleges and universities, which should be addressing the national shame of mass incarceration, are rich sites for such work. Young, dedicated people enter the prisons and meet talented, energetic people with complex lives who are hungry for learning and creative opportunities. Transformation and growth occur on all sides.

PCAP has some limited opportunities for unpaid internships and provides consultations and trainings for others interested in initiating such work. We have videos of our work for sale. Our website is www. We can be reached at and, and 734-647-7673 or 734-764-2393.

[Buzz Alexander is the Founder of the Prison Creative Arts Project.]

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