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Change Through Creativity: Georgia Dance Performance to Spark Prison Reform

On Friday, the University of Georgia (UGA) will hold a “first of its kind” theatrical performance by a racially diverse group of three dozen students in order to spark a conversation with audience members about incarceration and prison reform.

The production, “By Our Hands,” will be a “performance to bring change” through a collaboration between members of the University of Georgia and Common Good Atlanta, an organization that teaches college-level courses in prisons across the state.

The goal is to give young incarcerated students a voice through dance and performance, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

The incarcerated students, along with other students and faculty from Spelman, UGA, created “original writing, composed songs, choreographed scenes, and engaged in critical reflection on the history of incarceration in the state of Georgia” by looking through historical records and using their own experiences with the justice system, according to the UGA Theatre website.

Cydney Seigerman, 28, a third-year UGA graduate student, told reporters, “The production does a good job of not necessarily saying what has to happen, but giving a good perspective on all these stories.”

Giving incarcerated youth a chance to be creative as part of their education is an increasingly popular approach to prison reform.

The Crime Report recently spoke with Max Kenner, the Bard Prison Initiative’s founder, about the College Behind Bars documentary that showcases how some of America’s “most terrific” students are incarcerated.

Kenner told The Crime Report, “The first and most obvious place to look for that wasted, disengaged talent in America is our sprawling and unbelievably oversized prison system.”

A local group of UGA students tutor Athens-area inmates seeking their GEDs in a similar program.

The material in Georgia’s “By Our Hands” performance carries a special intensity because it faces the emotions of incarceration head on. Students in the production wear the shackles worn by former gang members.

Many performing students said, “There have been tears at some rehearsals,” AJC reports.

Julie B. Johnson, a senior lecturer at Spelman College in Georgia, told the newspaper that performing is “physically and emotionally heavy.”

Overall, “By Our Hands” writers, performers, and producers hope that their Georgia Incarceration Performance Project will help individuals reflect on their relationship with incarceration through seeing this dramatic performance.

Their work premieres Friday evening at the UGA Theatre, with three additional free performances in Athens later through November.

Andrea Cipriano is a staff writer at The Crime Report.