Prison Story Project receives grant to perform at high schools across Arkansas

Courtesy photo

The Prison Story Project recently received grant from the Mid-America Arts Alliance to help take its staged readings to high schools across the state.

The Fayetteville-based program has worked with incarcerated women and men in Arkansas prisons for six years, helping inmates explore their truths through poetry, creative writing, literature, song-writing, and visual art.

Their work is then curated into a staged reading performed by actors with the goal of enabling those whose voices have been locked away to tell their stories, allowing communities to witness the humanity of the incarcerated through their own words.

From May – October 2016 the project was given unprecedented access to death row inmates at Varner Prison. A staged reading of their work – On The Row – has been touring across the country for the past year.

Matt Henriksen, creative writing director for the project, said after six years of work, the Prison Story Project team has learned that it’s important to share the inmates’ stories with young people.

“Hearing the stories of men on death row taught us the men were not born violent,” said Henriksen. “Their journeys to death row started in their youth. We believe sharing their stories with high school students may influence their ambitions and decision-making skills in more positive and hopeful directions.”

The $13,500 matching grant will help fund performances in Little Rock, Pine Bluff, Jonesboro, and West Memphis. A second tour will include evening performances in Kansas City, MO; Wichita, KS; Oklahoma City, OK; and Dallas, TX.

The project will kick off its tour with an encore performance of On The Row at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Parish Hall in Fayetteville at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 14. The event is free and open to the public with donations strongly encouraged to help with expenses on the high school tour, which begins the next day.