Prison Arts Outreach Program Brings Hope and Creativity to Women’s Prisons

If there's one thing Boston College students are passionate about, it's service. Such a drive to help others is what makes the BC community great, and combining that with the artistic gifts of many students opens the door for a wide range of service opportunities.

Though volunteering at a women’s prison isn’t always the first thing that comes to mind, the Prison Arts Outreach Program provides open-minded, artistic students with the opportunity to express themselves and make a lasting impact in the lives of incarcerated women.

Photo courtesy of BC Vslc / Facebook

Photo courtesy of BC Vslc / Facebook

Growing from the Arts and Social Responsibility Project started by Theater Department Chair Crystal Tiala in 2008, the Prison Arts Outreach Program has evolved over the last four years into a service group of about 20 students that brings hope and artistic programs of all kinds to women’s prisons in the Boston area.

Working in groups, student volunteers design workshops ranging from sketch comedy to poetry, dance and music to introduce to incarcerated women the goal of promoting self-confidence and expression.

Prison regulations often force students to use their creativity when planning activities: “It is difficult take any materials into prison so we always have to create workshops with minimal or no physical materials,” Tiala, an administrator for the program, said.

These programs are implemented over a series of weeks in which students build strong friendships with the women that allow for personal growth among not only the women receiving the workshops, but the students as well.

Photo courtesy of Lorrie McClanahan / Flickr

Photo courtesy of Lorrie McClanahan / Flickr

“I’ve learned more about the human experience and about people in general, and how to look past people’s problems or things that they’ve done and see them more in a holistic sense as a human being,” Emily Mervosh, a former member of the Prison Arts Outreach Program, said in a promotional video for the organization.

The real-life learning experiences that the Prison Arts Outreach Program provides for its volunteers are unlike anything that can be taught in a classroom. Members enjoy sharing their passion with others and witnessing first hand how the arts can impact women in a particularly difficult situation.

Before entering the prison, students undergo a mandatory orientation to ensure the safety of all volunteers, and by becoming part of the organization, students also commit to a retreat in September and at the end of the school year.

Throughout the semester, students can choose to volunteer on Tuesday nights or Sundays. The only application requirement is a passion for the arts. Applications are due by September 1, and students can apply online by filling out this form.