It was about the play “Twelfth Night”, which was staged by people serving long sentences for violent crimes.
A non-profit group called Rehabilitation through the Arts (RTA)who staged this show is celebrating its 25th anniversary this spring, and what started with only a small number of people who have been incarcerated is now serving more than 200 in various institutions.
In 2016, Tim Walker, who was in prison at the time, told me that the RTA program was, “For the first time in my life, I felt I could give away without any ulterior motives or undertones.”
This was great news for RTA founder and CEO Catherine Wokins.
“What we do in prison walls gives people hope,” she said. “It inspires them and gives them the tools for change.”
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We met at RTA headquarters on the SUNY Purchase campus, where we were joined by Charles Moore, who joined the organization after serving 17 years in prison for manslaughter.
“RTA has been a life-changing experience for me,” he said. “It saved my life.”
Moore went on to say that it restored his self-esteem and helped him stay clean and sober.
Today, Moore has been released from prison and holds the position of chief operating officer of the RTA.
“We shape the character of those in prison, and people believe in what we do,” he said.
There was ample evidence of support for the program at the recent RTA Silver Anniversary celebrations, co-hosted by Moore and another former prisoner, Lawrence Bartley.
The ceremony was attended by Acting Commissioner for Execution and Public Oversight of New York State Anthony Anuchi.
“It was a beautiful relationship,” he told the crowd.
Moore said attending the event “was very exciting for me”.
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He is one of more than 800 once-imprisoned people who have been successfully rehabilitated through art.
“Our program has changed the culture in the prisons where we worked,” Wokins said. “Correction officers look at what we do, and instead of making fun of us for creating actors, they understand that these quotes from actors are people who don’t get in trouble.”
Statistics confirm her statement. A small proportion of those involved in rehabilitation through the arts, only 5%, return to prison as soon as they are released.
This recurrence rate is much lower than the New York state average, which is currently 43%.
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