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I just finished reading an article about a program in Alabama, funded by grants, where prison inmates receive classes in art and literature. It’s called “The Alabama Prison Arts + Education Project (APAEP)” and, although inmates are not receiving college credits nor job training by taking these courses, they are better using their time than watching TV/playing cards and they are nurturing their creative sides. For the full story, click here.
As I was reading the article, I heard an inner racket in my head; my body responded, too–with an increased heart rate and sweaty palms. I’d like to say I was responding with good-will and love…wanting these inmates to benefit from the arts…but, instead, my baser self took over.
I’m a certified secondary theater teacher. I received my degree because I feel that theater is an important part of a well-rounded education. Some students “fit in” with the theater crowd when no other group will accept them, and learning to be comfortable on stage can help students learn how to be confident in their everyday lives. Getting a degree in theater education, however, may have not been the wisest economical or practical choice! When I graduated–excited about entering the classroom and encouraging young souls–I found that funding for theater in the public school system had been cut, and I had to commute to the neighboring state just to find a job. It all worked out well in the end. I loved my three years of teaching in Texas…I’ve relished the past 12 years as a stay-at-home-mom/home school teacher…I use my degree for “Kirsten, Queen of Theatre!”… and I am currently working part-time as a private school theater teacher.
Frustration over how theater and arts are not prioritized in the school system, however, still can take over my heart and mind, and it came bubbling to the surface when I read the article. My mind clamored, “Why is there money to hire teachers and buy materials for criminals when there is no money for children to learn art?” My heart sped up as another side of my mind entered the debate, “Kirsten, this is a different kind of money! It’s grant money…not state money…and Alabama isn’t even your state!”
On and on the argument continued.
And then there was an interruption. There was a quiet, peaceful, calm Voice (maybe “emotion” would be a better word) in the middle of the chaos. This voice said, “Wish Them Well,” and I found I could. Suddenly thoughts over small things like money and programs and logistics took a back stage to a glimpse of eternity. We have such a short time on this earth, and, during that short time, what really is important? Maybe one of the important things is walking in the image of our Creator–learning to create: feeling, expressing, thinking, sharing. Don’t all humans need that? Are some humans suddenly exempt from all that is good just because they made a mistake–just because they broke the rules? Suddenly I was happy for those inmates. My whole self realized their chance at learning and creativity had absolutely nothing to do with educational funding or my job-finding challenges.
Looking back over this five-minute response to an article about inmates learning art, I realize that my higher self–the self who can be happy for the inmates and for the teachers who have the privilege to teach them–needs to get to talk more. That self believes the best about people.
Every single conversation we engage in today can take a dip in to the lower realms or fly up to a higher place. Let’s all choose today–no matter who we are speaking of–to wish them well.