Drama program helps inmates find freedom behind bars

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SAN DIEGO -- Donovan State Correctional Facility has teamed up with the Playwrights Project, giving prisoners a chance to write plays and have professional actors perform them. They call the program – Out Of The Yard and it seems to be having a positive effect

The program teaches inmates to act and write plays but it’s not just an art program to help keep prisoners busy. It’s a therapeutic way for prisoners to find freedom behind the confines of the prison walls.

“I can smile, I can laugh, I can cry and I can show the world that the person who came in here doesn’t exist no more,” said Prisoner Michael McCracken.

Donovan State Prison inmate Michael McCracken is enjoying a play.  That’s because it’s a play he dreamed up and wrote called 'Moonlight Knight.'

“I tried to go out and do something new, and show people I’m not afraid of the sensitive side of me so I went with a tragic romance,” said McCracken.

The 32-year-old has been in prison for 16 years for the murder of a friend.  It’s something he said he lives with everyday and the playwriting program gives him a place to feel and work through some of what he’s done.

“I’ve learned through recovery by letting out the poison you have inside of yourself, you’re able to heal,” said McCracken.

And it’s not just him.

Ryan Barber has been behind bars for 12 years for carjacking and armed robbery. He enjoys the plays because they give him a sense of freedom.

"It allows you to break out of that shell and then express yourself in different ways. That are otherwise held down and repressed," said Barber.

The program is being provided to at least 15 to 20 level 4 maximum security prisoners. They tell FOX 5 the creative writing and even the acting exercises have taught them valuable skills. Among them commitment, self-control, discipline, self-worth and teamwork.

Cecelia Kouma is the Executive Director of the Playwrights Project says the inmates embraced the program and use personal experiences to shape the stories they tell.

“We encourage them to fictionalize but to draw from experiences in their lives. It’s very therapeutic,” said Kouma.

Officer Eddie Cortez sees these prisoners each and everyday. He says it provides them with an emotional outlet.

“It gives them a sense of freedom…so dealing with them one on one basis there is a difference,” said Officer Cortez.

Prisons across the country are using similar types of arts program to lower recidivism.  They’ve found that the arts and theatre help inmates develop empathy.

Michael Mccrackent can’t do anything to change what he’s done but through his creative writing and theatre he says he’s trying to become a better man.

“All I hope is that someday I can earn the amends to honor his memory and hope that his family will forgive me for what I’ve done.”

The program has only been in place for a few months so officials say it’s a little too soon to see if this program has had an impact. But they all agree it’s had a posiitve effect and helped lower violence and acting out.

Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility (RJDCF) & Playwrights Project have teamed up.  Inmates took part in a playwriting program with Playwrights Project made possible through a partnership between Playwrights Project and the William James Association, with support from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and the California Arts Council.



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