Behind bars wearing black and white stripes is not a situation in which anyone expects to find themselves. Haunted by their past mistakes, many inmates find themself not only trapped in the imprisonment of their cells but also the confinement of their own emotions. Twenty five incarcerated women at Estrella Jail in Phoenix found freedom in the arts as provided by ASU Gammage’s Journey Home program.
March 4 marked the 10th anniversary performance of the transformative program in which a group of incarcerated women was chosen to participate in a six-week workshop designed to help them express themselves through the arts and build self-esteem and better decision making skills.
The women were introduced to art forms including creative writing, storytelling, movement and visual arts. In the March 4th performance, the women incorporate what they learned through Journey Home and presented it to an audience.
Program Director Fatimah Halim said, “The women had the opportunity to truly explore those dark and low places that we all go to, but unfortunately in their cases, it got them here. They are here in this program by the grace of God, because any of us at any point in time could have wound up here.”
Halim said that many of the women found a value to all they experienced because it brought them to where they were with Journey Home, which possibly could save their lives.
Director and Expressive Movement Specialist Teniqua Broughton worked with the women on creating movement to express their feelings and emotions. This process was done completely through the movement of the body without sharing any words.
Nubia Owens worked with the women on the visual art. She worked with the women on a project where they created a mask that reflected their inner emotions and true feelings.
Imani Muhammad also assisted with the visual art and served as a mental health specialist. She explained how the process of everything they were experiencing was not only a physical journey, but also one for their emotions. She said that through all the development of exploring their emotions and feeling from the arts, it could help them on the “journey home.”
One inmate who goes by the nickname “Q” has been at Estrella for eight months but chose to remain at the jail after her sentence to attend the Journey Home performance. She explained her inspiration for her poem that she performed was her unhealthy attachment to brand names and materialistic things after a poor upbringing. In her poem, she explained how in jail, her stripes cannot hide her shame.
“Image was a real big part of me,” Q said. “And coming here, I was stripped down to nothing. And so now the only thing that I do have is the moral and emotional support of these other women that are going on the same journey as I am.”
Where before, materialistic things were very important to her, Journey Home helped teach her the importance of relationships. “Now the only thing that I want…I want to hug my kids.”
“Our missions at ASU Gammage is connecting communities,” Executive Director at ASU Gammage Colleen Jennings-Rogensack said. “One of the communities that we think about connecting is the community of self. Particularly for the inmates here and the women here doing this work, the connection to self is equally important.”