Arts for Incarcerated Youth Network:
Written by Sally Fairman
former Executive DirectorJamie* (not her real name) peers sidelong down the row of girls sitting at the rectangular folding table set up in the dingy gym. She reaches for the ginger ale I’ve poured. “Thank you,” she emits from deep inside. You can feel the post-performance calm that Subway sandwiches, potato chips, and cookies have induced in the group following the presentation of their original play.
“You guys believed in us. I know I have a problem with anger,
and I’m working on that,” she says.
60 minutes prior when I walked in, the energy of these eleven girls incarcerated at LA County Probation Camp Scott was headed toward entropy. Even though I knew better, I found myself stiffening at their glares, taunts, and fierceness. No wonder though. They were trying to get through the final rehearsal of the original play they wrote entirely themselves within the span of one week (just eleven and half hours). It’s a fair bet that most had never performed on stage or had any meaningful arts experience. Offering the suggestion that it was normal to be nervous was met with stock denial. Vulnerability is not an asset in lock down, and it was only moments before their peers would file into the gym to take their seats in front of the make-shift stage … Read more *The names have been changed to protect confidentiality.
New Law to Help Justice-Involved Youth Reintegrate into Society
Having a criminal record has been shown to heavily impact an applicant’s employment prospects, making it very difficult for ex-offenders to re-join society after being involved in the justice system.[i] With 92% of employers now running background checks, applicants with a criminal past are far less likely to be hired than their peers who have not been involved in the justice system. This especially impacts young people of color, who often are held back and unemployed for years due to their criminal records.[ii]
In the past, the court required a $150 fee to seal juvenile records for those under the age of 26. This fee posed a major barrier for many low-income youth, who struggled to seal their records as they tried to gain employment, go to college, find housing, and create a stable foundation for themselves. A new California law, SB 504, was signed by Governor Jerry Brown this October to help these young people re-integrate into the work force after exiting the juvenile justice system. The law, which goes into effect on January 1, 2016, will waive the $150 fee, allowing young people to have a fresh start as they enter the working world.[iii]
Twice each year, The Unusual Suspects conducts an intensive Teaching Artist (TA) training program to prepare new and veteran TAs to lead on-site residencies. For three days in August, we brought together our Fall 2015 roster of fifteen TAs under the guidance of US Program Director and Master TA, Melissa Denton, to share experiences and expertise.
This year, we instituted a new TA Observation Rubric to begin articulating measures of success and quality in our teaching. The rubric, administered this year as a self-assessment, underlines the importance of adapting to changing circumstances in the workshop; validating student emotions; highlighting participant strengths; crafting clear, agreed upon goals; honoring the feeling of a sacred, safe space; being compassionate with each other; promoting perseverance; using theatre skills to promote inclusion and tolerance; and finding creative approaches to problem solving in everyday life.
Based in The Unusual Suspect’s nationally recognized methodology, refined in school and probation camp settings for over 30 years, our training gives TAs an opportunity to develop strategies and skills to maintain the highest possible quality of collaborative teaching.
To learn more about our trainings and how to get involved as a Teaching Artist,click here.
Theatre and Culture Access Program
Attends 3 Performances
Over 70 people in The Unusual Suspects Theatre and Culture Access Program (TCAP) attended three professional theatrical events and post-show workshops this year! Piloted last year through our partnership with Friends of the Family, this year we recruited parents and students from Maclay Academy of Social Justice who lacked exposure to professional theatre.
Participants saw Little Red, a punk-rock musical revision of the Little Red Riding Hood; Josefina Lopez’s Real Women Have Curves at Pasadena Playhouse; and the Mayan creation myth, the Popul Vuh-Heart of Heaven produced by Teatro Campesino and Center Theatre Group.
“It was the first time I was in a professional theater and I loved the work they did. I felt like I could relate [because] the theme related to Latinos. It was amazing,” said a mother after seeing Real Women Have Curves.
By exposing families to professional theatre, TCAP increases awareness of roles needed to put on a production, sheds light on tough themes, creates deeper ties to the community, and closes the generation gap.
“Our traditions and our
stories die with our grandparents,” said Veronica Lases of the Youth Policy Institute. “Here is this play that is a Mayan myth. It’s helping us hold onto our culture and traditions. Our younger generations are getting to see this.”