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FROM THIS EPISODE

In these troubled and uncertain days, we desperately need good news. And here it comes – believe it or not – from prisons.


Still from trailer for “Caesar Must Die”. Directed by Paolo & Vittorio Taviani. Palace Films. 2012.

The Opinion section of the NY Times on Sunday had the headline, “Cyrano Behind Bars.” The story was about a production of a 19 th century comedy by Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac, at Fishkill Correctional Facility in Beacon, NY. This two-day run, one for prisoners and one for outsiders, took place inside the prison as a result of the amazing work of Rehabilitation Through the Arts, a “20-year-old organization that operates in prisons across New York State” (NY Times).


Still from trailer for “Caesar Must Die”. Directed by Paolo & Vittorio Taviani. Palace Films. 2012.

The cast of 13 men – all prisoners – worked with a professional theatre Director, who encouraged them “to rewrite their dialogue in modern jargon” (NY Times). “Studies of prison arts programs around the country… have found that their participants are better behaved than other inmates… and are less likely to wind up back behind bars after release…” (NY Times). Yes, rehabilitation through art is “a real and achievable goal” (NY Times).


Kids from Camp Rockey juvenile probation camp work on a mural designed by teaching artist Fabian Debora (center) in the day room of the Hope Center (formerly the solitary confinement unit). Photo by Cam Sanders for Arts for Incarcerated Youth Network. 

After reading this story in the paper, I did some research about whether here, in California, we have a program as inspiring and courageous as the one in New York. To my surprise and delight, I found out about Arts for Incarcerated Youth Network, a community-based organization serving youth in the LA County juvenile justice system. It provides high-quality arts education to youth in detention, including creative writing, spoken word, visual arts, theatre, dance, and music. These programs help shift the juveniles from seeing themselves as “troublemakers” to creative young people with valuable energy to contribute – more proof that art can encourage and compliment behavioral therapy.


Still from trailer for “Caesar Must Die”. Directed by Paolo & Vittorio Taviani. Palace Films. 2012.

All of the above brings to mind the movie, Caesar Must Die (2012), by the Taviani brothers, well-known Italian filmmakers. It was filmed inside a maximum-security prison in Rome, with a group of convicts. I wonder what William Shakespeare would say, observing these convicts rehearsing his Julius Caesar in corridors, in their cells, in the concrete courtyard…


Still from trailer for “Caesar Must Die”. Directed by Paolo & Vittorio Taviani. Palace Films. 2012.

And, when you see them in full costume and make-up, on the stage, it’s difficult to keep in mind that this is not a traditional feature film with professional actors. It’s clear that these convicts experience a moment of freedom; their minds and spirits liberated through the expression of art.


Still from trailer for “Caesar Must Die”. Directed by Paolo & Vittorio Taviani. Palace Films. 2012.

Last week, The Getty Villa hosted an event with the Director of the National Archaeological Museum in Naples, who talked about the museum’s history and various programs, including one which stopped me in my tracks. This museum has organized special tours of its collection for local prisoners. The moment I heard this, I began to fantasize about similar programs at The Getty, and to see prisoners interacting with such iconic works in its collection as the bronze Statue of a Victorious Youth or James Ensor’s painting, Christ’s Entry into Brussels in 1889.

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