The Prison Arts Coalition is an awesome national network of people making art in and around the American prison system. PAC provides support and guidance to people who are interested in developing prison arts programs or people looking to support incarcerated and formerly incarcerated artists. This week we interviewed Wendy Jason, PAC Manager, on PAC’s roots, the biggest issues they are tackling, and more:
Juvenile In Justice: How did the Prison Arts Coalition get started?
Wendy Jason: At various prison arts gatherings, practitioners often talked about the need for a central place with information and, if possible, exchange. At a Critical Resistance conference in Oakland in 2008, a few former Prison Creative Arts Project students and other practitioners committed to starting a website. For the first year or so, rotating facilitators acted as administrators of the site. Wendy Jason took over admin duties in 2011, and was joined by Becky Mer a year later.
JinJ: What is the most important work PAC is doing today? What are the biggest issues PAC is tackling?
W.J:The most important work PAC is doing today is maintaining and growing the largest online platform for information and resources on prison arts in the US. The PAC site has become an essential resource because of its comprehensive listing of prison arts programs across the US, its extensive listing of prison arts-related resources, as well as events and jobs around the country. Also, PAC’s blog provides a space for those directly involved in the field to share their perspectives and experiences.
The biggest issues PAC is tackling are (1) lack of connection between various stakeholder groups, including students, researchers, family and friends of incarcerated artists, formerly incarcerated artists, prison arts practitioners, and those looking to enter or support the sector, and (2) lack of awareness of existing resources by people struggling to develop prison arts projects and programs anew.
JinJ: I’m sure in your work you have encountered people with amazing/heartbreaking stories about their experience with the juvenile justice system. Can you share one with us?
W.J: Here’s a guest post on our blog that speaks to the power that art has to transform lives:
JinJ: How does PAC envision the juvenile justice system in 10-20 years?
W.J: We envision a system that acknowledges and affirms the humanity and worth of all those who enter its realm, and provides young people with an abundance of opportunities to explore their imaginations, strengthen their relationships, and seek out sources of meaning and fulfillment.
JinJ: What are PAC’s goals for the future? What groups do you want to be working with? What issues do you want to be tackling?
W.J: Our goals for the future include (1) a partnership with another national network concerned with the freedom of expression of people in prison, (2) procuring funding and non-profit status, (3) broadening our knowledge-base and database of contacts, and (4) updating and expanding our website to be more interactive. We are always looking to build our coalition – we want to be working increasingly with people in states with little access to prison arts programming, with family and friends of incarcerated artists, and people interested in mobilizing for another national or regional conference in the US.
JinJ:What is the best thing that a concerned citizen can do today to get involved in the juvenile justice system reform movement?
W.J: Support the creation of spaces in which those most directly impacted by the system can share their stories, strengthen their voices, and organize. This could mean volunteering in your local juvenile facility, in a program working with young people coming out of detention, or in a program for the families/loved ones of incarcerated youth. Listen. Learn about, become trained in, and promote restorative practices.
You can stay in touch with the Prison Arts Coalition here: