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 was performing throughout the US, uniquely exposing the needs of the prison population to its participants and leaders.
In 2012, Shining Light 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, Shining Light 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, Shining Light participants and facilities began asking what more could be done with this unique method of bringing life-change to the incarcerated.
In 2015, Shining Light 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 20+ Impact Workshops in different facilities throughout Pennsylvania, and also in New York and Ohio. 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, Shining Light has served over 60 correctional facilities throughout the US and Puerto Rico. In August 2017, Shining Light 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 Impact Workshop participants.
Shining Light 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.