At the conclusion of our last Workshop, each of our team leaders received a beautiful, hand-made, thank-you card uniquely designed for each person by the artists on our team at SCI Frackville.
When we arrived at SCI Frackville, we heard from men and staff that we would probably have difficulty getting and maintaining participation in our Workshop. “Lots of people don’t show up.” “Most men don’t stick to things here, so take extra people,” is what we were told.
This was frustrating to hear after so many had worked so hard to get this to happen. Of the 26 state prisons in PA, SCI Frackville is one of only four Level 4 (Maximum Security) PA prisons. It is a small prison with only 1,200 housed there. Programming has been somewhat limited through the years at Frackville because of the size and high security. We knew we were something far beyond anything ever done before in this place. But Frackville Superintendent Brittain had said, “Let’s do this!” and Chaplains Anyanwu and Graham had been doing all the groundwork to make it happen.
We interviewed 32 men to participate and invited them all to participate. On day one 29 men showed up. That was a typical start. But would they come back after a 7 hour day with professional singers and dancers?
On day two, 29 men were waiting for us in the chapel when we arrived. We were off to a great start! But each day we challenged the men to work very hard physically and mentally, leading to singing, dancing, and acting out their own life challenges in front of hundreds of their peers. How many of us would be willing to do that in that setting? Would all these men keep coming back?
At the end of day two, the men were lined up in an adjoining hallway waiting for something as we left. The chaplain explained that because this was max security and the men were interacting with outsiders, every man had to be strip searched before leaving our rehearsal. Talk about another challenge to keeping participants! Even in the prison world where privacy is non-existent, this is a difficult process. And they would have to go through it every day they were with us.
To our surprise, 29 men were waiting for us the next day, and the day after that, and 29 men performed on the stage at the conclusion of the program. In fact, this was the first time we had perfect attendance for an entire Workshop! These men were hungry for the opportunity to do something with purpose and meaning. They were also excited to serve their peers by bringing a message of hope and encouragement.
On Sunday we had our closing discussion and ceremonies. These men had done far more than anyone, including themselves, thought they could do. They had overcome obstacles, broken through barriers, and stood up to peer pressure to be a positive influence in a difficult environment. With a new or reignited vision of who they were, these men had a new or strengthened belief that they could be the men they longed to be.
Here is what Donta, one of our participants shared: “This is much deeper for me than it seems. I’m on a mission, trying to prepare myself for going back out there (on release). A lot of us don’t do things because we are nervous of what people will think. I got a lot of people following me out there for the wrong stuff. This is about preparing myself for not caring what other people think so I can lead people toward the right stuff.”
Thank you for your support in making this possible.