Prison and Neighborhood Arts Project (P+NAP)

Among the many U.S. policies and laws of the 1980s and 90s that contributed to the current age of mass incarceration in the U.S. is a 1994 law signed by Bill Clinton that eliminated access to Pell Grants for prisoners, thus forcing the vast majority of college programs in prisons to close down. This was done despite studies showing that education in prison helps former prisoners find employment and reduces recidivism. It was left to nonprofits, universities and individuals to fill the gap this new policy created.   

Prison and Neighborhood Arts Project (P+NAP) is one such program organized by a coalition of college educators, artists and writers in Stateville Correctional Center, a maximum-security state facility in Greater Chicago. Despite having a strong history of art and education programs in the 1970s, Stateville holds over 1,800 men who have had few education opportunities and limited access to a library for over a decade. P+NAP is a visual and literary arts initiative that connects teaching artists and scholars with incarcerated men through semester-long humanities classes, workshops and guest lectures. Collaboration is at the core of the program, where free and incarcerated artists work together to critically communicate to a broad public the issues with imprisonment, isolation, and social segregation. The program has created an arts and literary library in the prison, invites artists, activists and researchers to give guest lectures, and holds art and poetry classes. It also organizes exhibitions and events beyond Stateville in an effort to draw a link between life on the inside and its implications to those on the outside. In the past year, P+NAP started artist and writer residency programs with the intent to combine inside and outside skills to produce work around a single topic. The first resident, supported by Jane Addams Hull House, was artist Damon Locks who collaborated with incarcerated men on the concept and meaning of “Free Time” in an un-free place. The class considered histories of time and labor from the reform era in the U.S., when ideas of free time were connected to one’s ability to participate in a democracy. How might a group of people articulate time and freedom in an un-free space? Is the speed up of time and inability to shape a collective political future in the free world connected to ‘doing time’ in prison? Several games and experiments in the class led to a series of exquisite corpse texts. A selection of these texts is represented here with the posters. Another section of the class involved the development of an animation whereby 11 artists created 100 animation frames, each articulating their own ideas of freedom and time. The ultimate goal of P+NAP is for free and incarcerated collaborators to join efforts in propagating a cultural shift among the public in the understanding of the prisoner population and the isolated conditions it has endured for much too long.

The Prison and Neighborhood Arts Project is an initiative that connects teaching artists and scholars to men at Stateville Prison, a maximum-security prison located 50 miles outside Chicago, IL. P+NAP organizes classes, workshops and guest lectures in the prison and in exhibitions and discussions around Chicago, with the goal of creating platforms for conversation about our prison nation, and collaborating with individuals most impacted by confinement. In 2013-2014 P+NAP started an artist-in-residence project with a focus on the idea of time. Outside artists Damon Locks, Fereshteh Toosi, Rob Shaw and Sarah Ross worked with inside artists Miguel Morales, James Piggues, George Frison, Alan White,  Johnny Taylor, Carlos Santos, Joseph Dole, Devon Daniels, William Jones, Patrick Betley, Devon Terrell, Amhad Poole and Derrick Holman to create a body of work that attempts to articulate ideas of free time in an un-free place.