In 2015, SLM launched its Impact Workshop program with the Philadelphia Prison System (PPS); today Workshops have been offered in jails and state prisons throughout PA as well as Rikers Island in NY. Through Impact Workshops, incarcerated men and women are invited to collaborate with professional artists to create and present a culminating performance of hope to the others in the facility. Participants grow personally, socially, and spiritually, and thrive as they give of themselves to serve others; artists are inspired by the unique opportunity to use their developed skills and life experience to interact with a hidden pocket of our society in a redemptive way.
Workshops run for 2 weeks - 5 days per week, 7 hours per day - and each day includes community-building activities, reflection/sharing, worship, and small group discussions on faith and self-discovery, in addition to intensive artistic preparations. During each workshop, four professional artists serve as team leaders, collaborating with 25-30 selected participants from the correctional facility. After being assigned to one of 4 teams - dance, vocal, theatre, or spoken word - participants work with their team leaders and with SLM staff to develop material for the final performance. Theatre sketches and spoken word pieces (and some choreography) are all original work, crafted by the participants from their own life experiences in a way they believe will best reach their peers in the audience.
The culminating performances take place on SLM’s full stage, set up in the facility’s gym, complete with a professional lighting plot, sound, and video projection. Each performance is accompanied by a professional band and is followed by an interactive feedback session where audience members are encouraged by the participants to “do something” with what they heard. It is in these moments that the risk and sacrifice pays off, and hope turns to reality for those desperate to find value and purpose for their lives. Workshops conclude with an intentional time of celebration, reflection and consideration of next steps for the participants, and SLM staff return to the facility 1 and 6 months later to follow up.
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INTERESTED IN GETTING INVOLVED?
Prior to our arrival in a facility, the men or women who were initially interested in participating went through interviews with SLM staff to approve their participation.
One-by-one, the men or women on our list come into the gym, some having never interacted with each other before. They're from different blocks, different units, and now, are united by their shared interest in Shining Light. We start with some introductions, ice breakers, and go right into teaching music and choreography for one of the group numbers. Then it's time to give people a chance to try-out a couple of the artistic disciplines. Team leaders decide on final assignments and by the end of day one, rehearsals for each team are underway.
After week one, not only have teams developed the core of their performance pieces, but they've also been discussing life and faith matters in small groups and through specific curriculum. Day 5 is a celebrated benchmark, both from a relational stand point and also from a performance stand point. Each team gets a chance to reveal what they've been working on and to perform their pieces for the rest of the group, gives everyone a little taste of having an audience and being applauded for the incredible progress made.
By the time the next week has started, the countdown to the performance is at the forefront of everyone's mind. Nothing makes that more clear than when the stage arrives. A semi-truck full of equipment is checked through security, and within 3 hours, the stage, lights, and microphones are ready for rehearsals. The addition of the band the following day is the final piece of preparation before welcoming audiences.
Depending on the facility, we perform in front of an audience 3-5 times. Usually, staff and special units are invited to full rehearsal performances and then there are scheduled performances, which were advertised throughout the facility with specific times for specific blocks or units. The presentation runs for 45 minutes to 1 hour, followed by a feedback session, where participants and audience members can share thoughts about the experience.
After the final performance ends and the stage is broken down and the gym is emptied of any evidence we were there, we come back for one final celebration. We spend time talking about conversations participants had after getting back to their blocks/units. We ask about reactions, thoughts, questions. And we revisit topics about God and faith and about the change we've seen in one another. It's a favorite time to share, be encouraged, and finish our time together with a renewed vision going forward.