New program spurs artistic creativity among inmates

ELLSWORTH — “Art…Write…Now!”, a newly introduced program at the Hancock County Jail, is revealing the transformative power of self-expression that springs from inmate participation in arts-centric activities.

Through Regional School Unit 24 Adult Education, Phil Wormuth, a certified English teacher and published author, and veteran Brooklin art Jean Hylan, who taught for over 40 years, co-facilitate the art and writing program.

“One of the main reasons for the program’s success is the fact that the activities are hands-on and high-interest,” Wormuth related. “Most exercises can be completed in one class (1½-2 hours.) There has been such an enthusiastic response, that participants actually request homework to take back to their blocks.”

“The inmates have produced a great deal of work outside of class,” he continued. “I think that the jail’s willingness to let them have the materials they needed speaks volumes about the inmate’s positive behavior.”

One reason for the program’s success is the support it gets from jail administrators. Hancock County Jail Administrator Tim Richardson and Assistant Administrator Frank Shepard expressed an interest in the project from the beginning and were there to provide the people and resources to get the program going. Through their continued support and cooperation, as well as of correction officers (who ensure that anyone eligible to participate is accommodated), the program has successfully served 18 inmates to-date.

In February of 2018, RSU 24 Adult Education formed a partnership with the Penobscot County Jail’s “What Now, What’s Next” Education program to brainstorm ideas and work out logistics for expanding programming at the Hancock County Jail.

RSU 24 Adult Education Program Director Ander Thebaud was instrumental in developing a strategic plan that won the support of both Hancock County Jail administrators and the Hancock County Commissioners.

Wormuth and Hylan will host a workshop at the Maine Adult Education Association Annual Conference in June to promote art programming in correctional facilities statewide.

The Maine Corrections Art Initiative is a new collaborative effort between county jails and prisons across Maine to raise awareness of the benefits of arts programs and showcase original inmate artwork (including writing).

Hancock County Jail inmates’ original works will be featured in a chapbook (a small publication, generally no more than 40 pages, that centers on a specific theme.) Books will be available to inmates and the greater public sometime during the summer/early fall.

A 2014 study published in the Justice Policy Journal revealed how arts programming positively affects inmate attitudes and behavior.

“It engages and empowers inmates with a sense of purpose, raised consciousness, and the belief that they can realize positive change in their lives.”

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