Art & Education vs. Incarceration & Recidivism


June 20, 2013.  From Prison Ceremony to Youth Fund-Raiser:  A Day’s Journey Among Three Groups Saving Lives

The sun was shining down on the prison yard at San Quentin State Prison. A glorious morning for a graduation ceremony.   A fantastic education nonprofit – the Prison University Project – would soon award Associates of Arts degrees to graduates/inmates before a very appreciative audience of family and friends.

Before and after the ceremony several of the inmates spoke of how the arts had changed their lives by giving them a sense of self-worth and a desire to learn more. Listening to their accounts made clear many, if not most, would not be incarcerated if they had access to art programming early and often in their lives. Listening to them made it painfully clear how limited the opportunities are for our young people to experience success via the thread-the-needle paradigm offered by our educational system.  Many of these men’s lives could have been radically different for the better had they had access to a more inclusive way of learning.

Later in the evening, two wonderful celebrations hosted by two perfect examples of highly-effective violence/despair/ignorance/poverty prevention programs.    The All Stars Project, an exemplary human development through arts & education program, celebrated its Annual Phat Friend Award Ceremony where youth give leadership awards to adults of their choosing after a methodical selection process (All Stars doesn’t do anything halfway).   Looking at the faces of the engaged youth on the selection committee my mind went back to the faces of the men @ San Quentin just a few hours earlier.  The importance of the All Stars Project could not be more striking or evident; the All Stars kids were young lives that would be saved.

Shortly after, a visit to the annual fund-raider hosted by the Vietnamese Youth Development Center (VYDC).  A landmark Tenderloin youth-serving organization since 1977, VYDC also saves kids and young adults through human development programming.   There one can also see hope and promise for a positive future.

It’s a short drive from the Tenderloin to San Quentin State Prison.  The journey is one that’s preventable.  Thankfully, because of groups like the All Stars Project and the Vietnamese Youth Development Center, it’s a drive and journey many of our children and families will never have to make.

Credits:  Image from the Prison Arts Project, a program that significantly reduces the recidivism rate.