Whose voices are you hearing?



New Mural Arts project brings the voices of those most impacted by mass incarceration to the forefront

Which country has the highest number of incarcerated people per capita?

It’s us.

The United States is the world leader in incarcerating its citizens, imprisoning 2.3 million people per year. The U.S. has 4.4 percent of the world’s population and 22 percent of the world’s prisoners.

robyn-buseman-headshotThe stunning numbers tell a dismal story: Decimated communities, a poorly trained workforce, and large segments of the population marginalized and left behind. This is a failure, magnified on a nationwide scale. It is a failure of our culture of incarceration, a culture that does not provide space for treatment and rehabilitation.

But we can take steps to ignite change in this system.

Mural Arts Philadelphia, along with noted artists Hank Willis Thomas and Jesse Krimes, and professor Baz Dreisinger, are launching a campaign to give voice to those most impacted by incarceration and reentry. Working inside prisons and jails with recently released returning citizens and communities, the Voices project aims to create a culture of healthy discourse on issues and policies, a conversation that could spark reforms to the entire system.

Voices will kick off November 30 with a livestream event from inside SCI Graterford, and you can watch the event here.

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Readings from two books, Incarceration Nations by Dreisinger, and Writing My Wrongs by Shaka Senghor, will be featured. Readers include inmates, hip hop artists Freeway and Prodigy, and the authors themselves. Noted actor Malik Yoba and radio executive Ebro Darden will also join in the readings.

Other events within the Voices project will include the screening of the documentary Solitary with the filmmaker and a panel on March 7, 2017 at the Wilma Theater, as well as a discussion on arts and criminal justice reform on April 20, 2017 at Eastern State Penitentiary with noted artist/activist Maria Gaspar and Willis Thomas, and an opening reception for the finished artwork on June 2, 2017.

Featured artwork will include a movable exhibit, “Writings on the Wall,” to be located at all events, and a mural designed by Krimes — artist, activist, and formerly incarcerated — on N. 8th street.

Guest blogger Robyn Buseman, MS, is the Restorative Justice Program Director for the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. Contact her at robyn.buseman@muralarts.org.