The Record-Review – The official newspaper of Bedford and Pound Ridge, New York

 

Program helps inmates take a new stage

By NATALIA BAAGE-LORD
John Bedford Lloyd, a Katonah resident and volunteer teacher at Rehabilitation Through the Arts, directed “Macbeth” at the Green Haven Correctional Facility.
 

When Katonah’s Katherine Vockins attended a graduation at the Sing Sing Correctional Facility in June 1996, she did not imagine that she would soon be inspired to start an artistic program for prison inmates.

Later that year, Ms. Vockins opened Rehabilitation Through the Arts, a program aimed at using creative arts, like theater, song, dance and writing, to provide life skills to men and women in New York prisons.

“It is about using an art form to learn more about themselves,” said Ms. Vockins, the founder and executive director of Rehabilitation Through the Arts. “And through doing that, they transform themselves.”

Rehabilitation Through the Arts began months after Ms. Vockins inquired if there was interest in theater at Sing Sing. In the fall of 1997, they launched their first production. According to Ms. Vockins, the play was about what the inmates knew: violence, drugs, relationships and money. But it was also about hope, redemption and humanity.

After 10 years at Ossining’s Sing Sing, Rehabilitation Through the Arts expanded to Woodbourne Correctional Facility and Fishkill Correctional Facility. One year later, it grew to Green Haven in Stormville, and then reached the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women by the following year. The five prisons serve approximately 150 men and women per year, presenting several performances year round.

“You don’t do something like this unless it feeds you on a level that’s almost not explainable,” Ms. Vockins said. “You learn so much by working with people who are not necessarily who you meet every day on the street or within your family or circle of friends. You really grow and change by working with relationships that challenge you.”

Ms. Vockins admitted that Rehabilitation Through the Arts cannot impact every member of the prison system who attends a class. However, it might drastically transform the lives of one-quarter of the attendees, she said, and that is satisfying.

“Once you get to know incarcerated human beings, you realize that they are just like us,” she said. “They really are. They just have made some pretty awful mistakes. But they want to change. If they really do want to change, I think it is our society’s responsibility to give them the tools to change. Punishment is the prison. But if we do not give them the tools to change, what are we doing? We are incarcerating them, we are punishing them, but we are not helping them.”

A study published by John Jay College reported that inmates involved in an art program are likely to be better in overall prison life.

“We feel that what we do has value,” Ms. Vockins said. “Most people ask, ‘Why do you put on plays and teach them to paint or sing? Is it just giving them something nice to do while they’re doing their time?’ Yeah, it is. But what we are proving is that there is real value and that art helps people change.”

At the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, Rehabilitation Through the Arts is currently helping the women develop a musical that will be produced in the fall. Additionally, they will host a six-week dance and movement workshop in hip-hop, Martha Graham body movement or Butoh dance, where the idea is to use dance as a means of self-expression.

In May at Sing Sing, Rehabilitation Through the Arts helped the men perform “A Few Good Men.” There is also a creative writing workshop and a workshop focused on acting techniques that the inmates can apply to their own lives.

Rehabilitation Through the Arts has between 25 and 30 teachers, who are called “facilitators.” The facilitators are professionals in the art world, most likely with a master’s degree or doctorate. They include Tony Award-nominee Dick Scanlan and Katonah residents and actors John Bedford Lloyd and Anne Twomey Lloyd.

“The facilitators will tell you that there is more joy in teaching in prison than most of them have in teaching on a college campus because the students in the prison are really hungry — totally hungry — to learn,” Ms. Vockins said.

Ms. Vockins’ vision is for Rehabilitation Through the Arts to be used as a model for prisons outside of New York State. She is also looking to partner with the City University of New York to allow inmates to be trained as facilitators and accumulate credits toward an undergraduate degree, giving them a skill set for employment when they leave prison.

For more information about Rehabilitation Through the Arts, visit www.rta-arts.org.


Read more local coverage of your hometown in this week’s issue of the The Record-Review. Newsstand copies are available at several locations listed above, or subscribe today for convenient home delivery.

 

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