Alabama Prison Arts Project

By Dianne Walker

The Alabama Prison Arts and Education Project fledged from a passion Kyes Stevens has for creating a better world for prisoners by providing educational opportunities that were far out of their reach. 

When Stevens was awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts her enthusiasm for educating prisoners became a reality. She is the founder and director of the Alabama Prison Arts and Education Project that now serves inmates housed in correctional facilities throughout central and northern Alabama. 

Steven’s first visit to the prison teaching poetry revealed her compassion for her students and her love of teaching.

The objective at inception of the program was to improve the lives of inmates by providing education and exposure to the arts.

When Stevens initiated the program she did not anticipate remuneration in return for accomplishing her dreams. She and the professors that work with the program experienced personal revolutions beyond their anticipation. Educating prisoners as an avenue to transform their view of what is possible for them has opened the educator’s eyes to humbleness they didn’t know existed. 

Stevens is able to see the potential her students have to become productive members of society outside the prison walls. She has the ability to believe in her students further than their past. Steven’s attitude towards her students is what moves them forward. She acknowledges the students as more than prison inmates. These are individuals that made poor choices in the past that have impacted family members along with themselves.

Educational opportunities reach further than the confines of the prison classroom.

Since 2001 when the program began, it has broadened into twelve prisons. Much of the success of the program is attributed to refined education extended to the program. Literature, arts and history are part of the curriculum that adds a more worldly twist to prison education. The challenging subjects promote a motivational environment in the prison classroom that did not exist before Steven’s idea was converted to veracity.

Barb Bondy, Auburn associate professor of art believes trust is the key element that bonds her relationships with her students.

Bondy’s strategy for teaching is enhanced by a challenging learning atmosphere. She encourages her students to progress outside of the artistic boundaries they didn’t know were achievable.

Bondy takes pleasure in inspiring her students to draw “outside the lines.” She loves witnessing her student’s new found pride by recognizing their talents. Bondy also takes satisfaction in showing her Auburn students her incarcerated student’s works of art. The incarcerated students are motivated to do their best when they see what can be accomplished in a prison setting.

Professors recognize there is an evident difference in learning eagerness and application between undergrad and incarcerated students.

Andrew Shotts, Auburn GTA and APAEP literature professor admits he has learned from the students to never give up on your education no matter what gets in the way. He is amazed by the challenges incarcerated students face and continue to show up for class.

Shotts concludes his students have given him much more than he bargained for as a professor teaching inside a correctional facility. The students have changed his view of humanity from cynicism to acceptance and humility. 

(Source:  Article by Kelsey Davis)