Since 2011, Chicago’s Prison + Neighborhood Arts Project has brought artists, educators, and activists together with incarcerated individuals at Illinois’ Stateville Correctional Center.
Through classes, workshops, and exhibitions, PNAP creates opportunities for learning across prison walls, connecting those inside with the tools and resources needed to creatively communicate their concerns to the larger Chicago community.
On September 24, 2020 Block Cinema was proud to join PNAP in order to highlight the extraordinary project: The Long Term (2016-2018), a series of animated works created around the issue of long-term sentencing policies and their impacts.
This screening presented moving-image works generated by this project, including The Long Term (2018, 13 min), a hand-drawn animated film made by artists serving extended sentences, as well as testimonials from people impacted by long sentences. Following the films, members of the PNAP community discussed the larger scope of the project, the challenges and rewards of arts and humanities education in state prisons, and the urgent need for sentencing reform today.
Between 2016-2018, artists, writers and members of the Prison + Neighborhood Arts Project created a series of thematic works around long-term sentencing policies and the other long terms they produce: long-term struggles for freedom, long-term loss in communities, and long-term relationships behind the prison wall. These projects emerged out of classes and collaborative work at Stateville prison, where people are serving extraordinarily long prison terms (60, 70 and 80 years), often for crimes for which they would have already been released, had they been sentenced 30 years earlier, or in a different country.
The Long Term includes a body of creative work that includes: a 13-minute hand-drawn animation made by artists serving long-term sentences; a series of video interviews with people impacted by long-term sentencing; an audio installation documenting a conversation among formerly incarcerated leaders about carceral policy; a portfolio of risographic prints made by 15 Chicago artists; a series of miniaturized “survival kits” for the long term, made by artists surviving long term sentencing and a series of works on paper.
Created by artists from Stateville Correctional Center and artists from the Prison + Neighborhood Arts Project: Chester Brost, Devon Daniels, Joseph Dole, Francisco “Paco” Estrada, Darrell W. Fair, R Dot Nandez, Damon Locks, C. McLaurin, Flynard “Fly 1” Miller, Andrés Reyes, Sarah Ross., B. R. Shaw, Bring and Johnny Taylor.
Eric Blackmon is a Chicago native who is an artist, poet and paralegal at the MacArthur Justice Center. He spent more than 15 years in Illinois state prisons for a crime he didn’t commit. He was represented by the Northwestern Center for Wrongful Convictions who has played an instrumental role in his release and his life since. Eric works diligently to reform the system that once wrongfully incarcerated him. He is a member of the Prison + Neighborhood Arts Project, Resident and Facilitator at the University of Chicago’s Pozen Center for Humans Rights and a student at Northeastern IL University. He also sits on the board of The Chicago Torture Justice Center and The Justice Renewal Initiative, two prominent forces that advocate for justice and reforms.
Damon Locks is a visual artist, educator, vocalist/musician, and deejay. Since 2014 he has been working with Prison + Neighborhood Arts Project (PNAP) teaching art at Stateville Correctional Center. Damon has designed sound for Free Street Theater, dancer and educator Onye Ozuzu’s Project Tool, and dancer Anna Martine Whitehead. He is a teaching artist with the School Partnership for Art and Civic Engagement (SPACE) program through the Museum of Contemporary Art, introducing civically engaged art into the curriculum at the Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy. His group Black Monument Ensemble has performed at the MCA, Garfield Park Conservatory, and the Chicago Cultural Center.
Audrey Petty is a writer and educator. She writes fiction, poetry and creative nonfiction. She is the editor of High Rise Stories: Voices from Chicago Public Housing (Voice of Witness/McSweeney’s) and co-editor of The Long Term (Haymarket Press). She has taught extensively in the fields of African American literature and creative writing and has served as the Simon Blattner Visiting Assistant Professor of Fiction at Northwestern. She is currently the Director of the Sojourner Scholars Program at Illinois Humanities and a teacher with Prison + Neighborhood Arts Project.
Jill Petty is a Communications Officer for the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, one of the largest philanthropic organizations in the US. Established in 1930, the Kellogg Foundation centers racial equity, the health and well-being of children, and community building in all funding. Jill has done communications work for organizations advocating social change, including Equal Justice Initiative, the Alabama-based legal nonprofit led by Bryan Stevenson. She is a member of the Prison + Neighborhood Arts Project teaching collective, an abolitionist arts and humanities project at Stateville Maximum Security Prison, near Chicago. Additionally, she is a former editor for South End Press, Beacon Press, and Northwestern University Press and a co-editor of The Long Term (Haymarket Press).
Miriam Petty is an Associate Professor in the Department of Radio/Television/Film at Northwestern University. She is a Charles Deering McCormick Chair in Teaching Excellence, and the past Director of Graduate Studies for the Screen Cultures PhD Program. She writes and teaches about race, stardom, performance, reception, adaptation, and genre and is especially interested in the history of African American representation in Hollywood film.
Sarah Ross, co-founder and co-director of Prison + Neighborhood Arts Project, which works at the intersection of art and justice, collaborating with incarcerated artists and writers to exhibit their work and engage in dialogue. PNAP is a grassroots project offering arts and humanities classes in Stateville Prison, a maximum security prison near Joliet, Illinois about 35 miles southwest of Chicago. Sarah has almost a decade of experience working with incarcerated people and has taught art and art history at various prisons in Illinois.
The screening includes “The Long Term” and two video interviews with Marshan Allen and Julie Anderson, individuals who have direct experience of long-term sentencing made as part of the PNAP exhibition. The screening is followed by a conversation between Sarah Ross, Damon Locks, Eric Blackmon, Audrey Petty, and Jill Petty with moderation by NU Prof Miriam Petty.
Prison + Neighborhood Arts Project is a visual arts and humanities project that connects teaching artists and scholars to men at Stateville Maximum Security Prison through classes, workshops and guest lectures. Classes offered include subjects ranging from poetry, visual arts, and film study to political theory, social studies, and history. Classes are held once a week, on a 14 week semester schedule. Classes develop projects—visual art, creative writing and critical essays—with specific audiences and neighborhoods in mind. These works are then exhibited and read in neighborhood galleries and cultural centers.
Implemented in the 1990s and 2000s, long-term sentencing policies were ushered in as bipartisan reforms and an extension of the “tough on crime” logic. Recent state and federal efforts to reduce mass incarceration have focused on “non-violent drug offenders.” However, if the United States were to free all people incarcerated for what are called “non-violent offenses,” mass incarceration would still stand at just over 700,000, and the racial disparities of criminalization would be even more evident. While freeing people is cause to celebrate, these proposed reforms neglect half of the nation’s state prison population and forget that at one time, long-term sentences were not the norm. The Sentencing Project reports that 1 in 9 people in prison are serving life sentences, and 1 in 7 have sentences of 50 years or more. People locked in, or headed to, maximum security prisons are marked for death-by-incarceration.
We would like to highlight resources that have been recommended by the panelists if you are moved to continue learning about long-term sentencing and issues of the contemporary carceral system and wish to get involved:
- Prison + Neighborhood Arts Project (PNAP): https://p-nap.org/what.html and PNAP’s own resource list: https://p-nap.org/resources.html
- Parole Illinois: https://paroleillinois.org/
- The Final 5 Campaign: https://www.thefinal5campaign.com/
- Chicago Torture Justice Center: https://chicagotorturejustice.org/
- Justice Renewal Initiative (JRI): https://www.thejri.org/