What is Freehand Arts Project?
Freehand Arts Project is a group of volunteers committed to bringing the creative arts to people incarcerated in Texas prisons. Our program strives to address the deep wounds found in the incarceration system by providing a safe avenue for self-reflection, the opportunity to develop emotional awareness, and a supportive community. Our classes give inmates the experience of control and introspection through art, allowing them to engage in the world more confidently and authentically. Founded in 2009 by Benet Magnuson as the PRISMS program, our project employs highly qualified volunteers to teach weekly creative arts classes in Austin and Dallas jails. Our program has inspired hundreds of inmates and officers, who have created anthologies, a jailhouse newsletter and creative writing contests.
The United States locks people in prison at a higher rate than any other nation in the history of the world. It is one of the most daunting systemic problems we face, an issue of deep social inequality that wounds inmates, families, and communities. Since the 1970s, the U.S. has spent billions to build a mass incarceration system with staggering incarceration rates. Over the past 30 years, the population of incarcerated individuals in the U.S. has increased from 300,000 to over two million inmates.
America’s incarceration rate is four times its historic average and seven times higher than that of any country in Western Europe.
Mass incarceration is an enormous problem, but art is one step we can take now to relieve some of the hurt incarceration has caused to inmates, to families, and to communities. Art rests at the intersection of introspection, technicality, community-building, and communication – giving it the power to address the deep wounds found in and incurred by the incarceration system.
As a craft, art offers individuals a chance to work hard to produce something they can be proud of. It builds technical skills and work ethic. Art as a community tool offers individuals a chance to collaborate and interact with groups to share ideas. Whether individuals are working on a community piece or are sharing their work with others, in our classes we are building vital interpersonal skills for a socially-driven, cooperative world, together. Providing a chance to make silenced voices heard, art gives individuals the power to tell others what they’re thinking or how they’re feeling, a power that many inmates may have never really had. Art can give inmates the confidence to realize that their story is worth telling, and that they’ve not only got something worthwhile to give, but also develop a sense of worth for themselves.