In 1996, Jeff Bohn started a high school performing arts ensemble in a small, rural Pennsylvania church. From the beginning, the goal was to use the arts as a means of providing experiences that would expand participants’ perspectives and impact their lives. The ensemble began by offering presentations in churches, cultures, and situations that would stretch the youth spiritually, culturally, and artistically.
Adding local college students to the group in 1997 brought new talent, and in 1999, a surprising opportunity surfaced to reach a new audience - the prison population. The arts quickly built a bridge to this audience, and soon, Shining Light Ministries (SLM) was performing throughout the US, uniquely exposing the needs of the prison population to its participants and leaders.
In 2012, SLM began recruiting 30 students for a month-long Impact Tour, which involved the development of a 90-minute performing arts presentation that was offered at 12 correctional facilities. These presentations were called Impact Events.
Wanting to build long-term relationships with correctional facilities, SLM saw the opportunity to cultivate positive change in the criminal justice system. Seeing the impact of presenting faith-based messages of hope through the performing arts, SLM participants and facilities began asking what more could be done with this unique method of bringing life-change to the incarcerated.
In 2015, SLM launched its Impact Workshop program with the Philadelphia Prison System (PPS). In Impact Workshops, professional artists collaborate and perform with incarcerated people to offer a culminating performance of hope to the others in the facility. Using professionals answered a previously unmet need for opportunities for performing artists who are seeking to use their gifts and skills in ministry.
Since the great success of the pilot workshop at the PPS’s Riverside Correctional Facility in January 2015, Shining Light has held nine Impact Workshops in six different facilities, with 8-10 workshops planned in 2018. The goals in every workshop are to ignite the creative voices of incarcerated people; to empower leaders; to change the culture of the correctional facility through faith and fellowship; and to shape the lives of men and women upon their release as a result of the life skills they have learned.
To date, SLM has served over 53 correctional facilities throughout the US and Puerto Rico. In August 2017, SLM began an ongoing study with Research Scholars from NYU’s Marron Institute of Urban Management and the PA Department of Corrections to measure recidivism and in-prison infraction rates among SLM workshop participants.
SLM is the only organization of its size and interdisciplinary scope in the nation and has been a pioneer in harnessing the unique power of the arts to bring hope and meaningful experiences to those in correctional facilities who are often forgotten by society.