Ohio Arts Alive is a one hour arts/news/magazine program I produce, showcasing a wide spectrum of arts programs throughout the state. Of special interest are those people and programs who work with grievously underserved communities. Last year we did a program from the Lebanon Correctional Facility near Cincinnati, of a men's choir -UMOJA- and its remarkable conductor, Dr. Catherine Roma. Now, we look at kids.
The Madison Correctional Facility is about 40 minutes west of Columbus in London, Ohio. Inmates are young men aged 14-21, all of whom have been convicted of crimes as adults and serving adult sentences. At 21 these guys will be shipped off to adult prisons. My colleagues and I will be going out there next week to sit in on a creative dramatics and bull session. Again, these are-to me, anyway-kids. And the authorities made it very clear: the crimes range from possession to murder.
Yeah, they look like choirboys, but these are (or were) some scary people.
Our auspices for this visit is ArtSafe Ohio, an organization dedicated to bringing educational opportunities to the incarcerated, and to young school children who have next to nothing.
Preparing for next week, I have learned:
85 % of these kids in prison come from broken homes
at least 75% were themsevles abused, from rape to other forms of physical abuse. Neglect and parental indifference means getting off lightly.
The guys at Madison have published a book called Inside Looking Out: It's a collection of writing and art work done by these guys, some of whom will never get out of prison.
Here are a few samples:
In this cell, I always think about my future and my past.
For in this cell, you just don't know how long you can last. (Antwan)
It's crazy here, but you have to do the time.
Do not let the time do you.
I have never been to a youth center or juvenile jail.
It was my first time committing a felony crime.
Now, I am in the pen for something I could have avoided.
This place is hell. You sit and stare out the windows all night
and you are never happy. You think about all the fun you had.
You will be be mad because the holidays come and you cannot spend that day with your family. If you have the chance to change your ways, do it, because jail is no place
to be, and that's "the real" (Vernon)
Now I have to go back to my soul being my best friend.
My soul and I must remain in hell-this 6' by 9' prison cell.
Thoughts of the past constantly run through my mind.
I only hear the devil's voice telling me to die in sin.
Instead of God's telling me to live again. (Steve)
But I can tell you this...the next time your Grandma or Mom kisses you and leaves lipstick on your cheek, don't wipe it off. You might regret it in years to come. (Marcus)
Inside Looking Out is available from ArtSafe: Arts for a Child's Safe America Foundation, 614-237-9077. See www.artsafe.org