Recent Bureau of Justice Statistics found that within three years of release, approximately two-thirds of released prisoners in the United States were back in the system for a new crime or a parole violation. While the recidivism rates are lower in Minnesota, it nonetheless seems clear that we need to provide the incarcerated with additional opportunities to develop life skills which will help them to reintegrate more successfully
At the Redeeming Time Project (RTP), we believe human beings are born inherently good. While some convicted criminals have committed heinous crimes against other human beings, their fundamental goodness still lives deep within them; we believe it can be cultivated by immersing participants in the safety of a restorative justice-style circle and an exploration of the theatrical artistic process.
The act of imagination required to play a character can become the spark of compassion that leads to empathy. One can learn empathy through the effort of performing a play, because one must ask, “What is it like to be this character? What is it like to walk in his shoes?” Through rehearsal room disagreements about the interpretation of a scene, or a line, one can learn to tolerate not just different points of view but also ambiguity itself. This newly acquired tolerance and wider understanding of human behavior helps cultivate patience and perspective.
In 2015, the White House hosted a Criminal Justice Reform, Innovation and the Arts meeting at which Attorney General Loretta Lynch noted that “...while the importance of job training and educational opportunities for incarcerated people cannot be overstated, the arts also serve a fundamental need – as a creative outlet and form of self-expression providing opportunities for collaboration and emotional growth.”
Redeeming Time Project uses Shakespeare to effect positive change. We leverage the theatrical arts to enable incarcerated and formerly incarcerated adults to develop social, cognitive, and life skills which they will need to reintegrate into the community.
Shakespeare teaches us what it means to be human, in all the nobility as well as all the depravity that it can entail. Again and again, he asks us, “What does it mean to be alive? How should we act? Who am I? What do I love?” Redeeming Time makes Shakespeare accessible to all, restores a voice to the silenced and voiceless, and explores the full complexity of the human condition.
Arts programs in correctional institutions give the incarcerated a transformational tool for healing, growth and change. Inmates who study and perform Shakespeare challenge themselves to achieve something most had never dreamed of before coming to prison: They develop a passion for learning. Their literacy and critical thinking skills improve. They explore the full complexity of humanity through Shakespeare, reassessing their past and current choices, as well as their future options, as they do so. Although RTP will work with material written by other playwrights and authors, Shakespeare will always be the firm ground on which we stand.
We use theatre as a tool for rehabilitation through improved communication skills, critical thinking, robust debate, self-reflection, stress release, discipline, teamwork, delayed gratification and, critically, play.
Incarcerated participants learn to work together as a team, resolve problems constructively and peacefully, express emotions, take the risk of vulnerability, practice empathy and compassion, set goals, understand themselves and others more deeply, achieve something which can make them and their families proud, learn what it means to give back to and become a responsible member of the community.
Kate Powers has been a facilitator, teacher and director with Rehabilitation Through the Arts (RTA) at Sing Sing Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison, for more than eight years. In addition to teaching workshops in acting, directing, text analysis, Shakespeare and stage combat, she has directed Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, Tracy Letts’ Superior Donuts and co-directed a devised piece entitled Starting Over at Sing Sing. She has also directed Death of a Salesman at Fishkill Correctional Facility. Ms. Powers has also taught at the Juilliard School, the Conservatory of Theatre at SUNY Purchase, Drew University and the University of Minnesota.
Kate has directed extensively off-Broadway and in the American regions, working on classics as well as new plays. She has directed both A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Winter’s Tale at the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, VA. Ms. Powers also directed Sandy Duncan in in Steven Dietz’s Becky’s New Car at Theatre Aspen and Hayley Mills in Charlotte Jones’ Humble Boy for the National Theatre’s UK National Tour.
A Drama League Directing Fellow and a Fulbright Scholar in Shakespeare, Kate earned her M.A. with Distinction at the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon. She was a participant in the 2014 January Intensive at Shakespeare & Co. She has also earned a Certificate in Arts Administration from New York University.
Through acting, directing, text analysis, character study, clowning and puppetry classes and workshops as well as, eventually, through full productions of plays, RTP encourages participants to engage with difficult material, work as a team, experience community, cultivate communication and critical thinking skills.
We believe that working together in an acting class environment or in rehearsal cultivates empathy and community as well as self-confidence and a constructive sense of accomplishment.
The Redeeming Time Project stands deeply indebted to Katherine Vockins as well as the men and women of Rehabilitation Through the Arts and to Curt Tofteland and the men of Shakespeare Behind Bars. Our founder worked as a facilitator, teacher, and director with Rehabilitation Through the Arts for eight years at Sing Sing Correctional Facility and Fishkill Correctional Facility in New York State.
Participants in prison performing arts programs often become role models for other inmates and are recognized by prison administration and correction officers. They learn to walk away from conflicts, inspire morale and make the prison safer.
Participants in prison performing arts programs across the country have significantly lower recidivism rates than the general population; and they overwhelmingly look for opportunities to be of service in their communities once they return home and find their footing.
Researchers at John Jay College of Criminal Justice showed that participants in our sibling program, Rehabilitation Through the Arts, demonstrated improved behavior and anger management, with fewer and less serious infractions compared to a control group.
A second study by researchers at Purchase College showed that participation in RTA led to achieving a high school equivalency diploma earlier in the sentence and a three-fold increase in post high school academics, compared to a carefully matched sample.
Having someone to interact with from the outside that actually cares changes your perspective, it opens you up.You begin to value yourself because you realize that there is something in you to value.
The value of this work in prison is to be able to express yourself without the mask that we wear every day in here.
I thought Shakespeare was just for white people. After learning about Shakespeare, he has no color. He has no boundaries.
I learned that when I put my mind to something, I know I can get it done. The forms of theatre we are working with and studying showed me that there are so many ways to make ourselves better people.
If you want to volunteer, to teach, or just ask us questions, use this form to contact us.