The Art Room where Spoon has been working for many years teaching writing classes was about to be closed down 2012. According to Spoon New Folsom has had one of the best art programs among California prisons. Since then CDCR decided to allow a new pilot program of Arts In Corrections and Spoon is currently working as a teacher there.
This is what Spoon wrote about the Art Room in 2011:
We have a flourishing art program here under our new name Creative Arts Program or CAP for short. It came into existence after Arts in Corrections was disfunded from all California prisons in 2009. We have music programs with a rock band run by Marco, one of my co-workers, a music theory class, and a blues band run by Ken who also does a lot of clerical work. We also have an R&B group run by a fellow prisoner called Shorty. There is a visual arts class taught by Marty, another co-worker. I run two writing classes, one is a prose class and the other is poetry.
There is the book club run by Jim Carlson who is free staff along with three retired school teachers that come inside for the book club. Marty and I help run the book club as well and find interested readers. I also run the instrument check out program which mainly consists of guitars, and there is an assortment of native American flutes that I play. All of us have a long history into the arts. We have no budget and so our time and equipment is donated. Each morning I sit in front of the Art Room and bring in the day by playing the flute and hanging out with by bird friends.
Space for realness
My students hearts, souls and spirits long to speak, to have a voice and a quiet place, a chance to express their often unexpressed and unknown selves in poetry and prose. Sometimes, my fellow prisoners are not aware of this fact, until they are sitting in class writing. This is what happened to me decades ago at San Quentin when I trusted my gut and signed up for a poetry class.
I open my class with silent writing. This silent writing is a form of free expression on any subject. The silent period can last 20 to 50 minutes, depending on the flow of the pens on paper. Amazing prose and poetry can come from this process. Such a space to create as a group and as individuals is a rare and appreciated thing in prison. Being a poet, a teaching artist in prison, I know the importance of this space and place to stay human, and for my students to share their own realness with their own voice. This writing offers the students a safe and cool place to bring down their masks and be human and real, and allow that what connects them to all human beings anywhere, to come out in an art form. People not in prison would be shocked at how open, human and real these souls, hearts and spirits become to the arts when suffering or flowing through a prison existence. The arts can save you and sustain you through decades of hardness and inhumanity. The writing helps to cope with and even prevent many tragedies, and can often create a reservoir of peace, hope and forgiveness. The power of the arts can open some up to feeling and caring again - to being human again. Perhaps, a state lost since childhood. The endless depths of that childlike love, creativity and realness.
Space for realness was first published in the SJRA Advocate