About the Project
A conversation is most healthy when everyone has the opportunity to be included. Voices, a project supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, was designed to humanize and empower conversations around issues of criminal justice in the United States by including and illuminating the perspectives of those who are jailed or who have been recently released from prison.
As a counterpoint to commonplace attitudes that promote a climate of silence and stigma around incarceration, Voices aimed to nurture a culture of community health and well-being by promoting acceptance, belonging, and dialogue. Incarcerated participants were invited to share their stories through writing, drawing, performance, and other forms of creative expression, promoting awareness beyond prison walls while cultivating dialogue built on mutual respect and dignity.
Following film screenings, panel discussions, a symposium, and a widely-watched livestream event at SCI Graterford, the project culminated in a mural designed by formerly incarcerated artist Jesse Krimes, installed at the State Department of Corrections Community Corrections Center. Krimes developed the design through intensive workshops with Voices participants, encouraging them to share their personal experiences and relate them to broader issues of incarceration, reentry, and community relations. The large-scale brick wall in the mural is partially concealed by peeling paint, with imagery and words revealed where the paint peels away, sharing messages of humanity and resilience. The crooked tree and its chained, straightened shadow are a nod to the parable of the crooked tree, symbolizing participants’ personal growth and ability to flourish in spite, or because of, unexpected life turns.
Voices also resulted in an exhibition at Painted Bride Art Center, featuring Writing on the Wall—curated by artist Hank Willis Thomas and professor Baz Dreisinger, with artwork curated by the Philadelphia Reentry Think Tank—and work from poet Ursula Rucker, and artists Jesse Krimes and Russell Craig. Project participant Omar Robinson told the Philadelphia Inquirer, “I’m thankful for programs like these that get you back on track. It helps you express yourself through art and give back to the community in a beautiful way.”
Calls to Action
The Sentencing Project
Fight For Lifers (FFL)
Vera Institute of Justice
American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania (ACLUPA)
Juvenile Law Center
Youth Sentencing and Reentry Project
Just Leadership USA
Equal Justice Initiative
News on Criminal Justice Issues
Resources for Ex-Offenders
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
The Reentry Think Tank
Home for Good Reentry Coalition
Eastern State Penitentiary