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Judy Dworin Project brings hope to incarcerated individuals

Published on February 22, 2021

Judy Dworin Project brings hope to incarcerated individuals

Judy Dworin, founder of The Judy Dworin Performance Project (JDPP)The Judy Dworin Performance Project (JDPP) presented a workshop at Eastern Connecticut State University on Feb. 17 as part of the campus’s weekly University Hour series. The workshop, which focused on bridging the gap between creative expression and social justice, offered a range of information on the JDPP to Eastern students and faculty. JDPP was founded in 1989 and has since worked with schools and prisons in Connecticut.

During the hour-long Zoom call, founder Judy Dworin, teaching artists and members of a variety of programs spoke of their experiences. Dworin, who started the project to fulfill her commitment to the arts and its impact on the world, said the goal of the project was to “reach unheard voices.” Originally starting with schools, the group began working with prison populations in 2005, predominately with York Correctional Institute, the only state prison for women in Connecticut. “I think that work has taught all of us who teach the magnitude of difficulty for those in prison and the talent that exists within them,” said Dworin. With a variety of activities including Tai Chi, dance and spoken-word poetry, project members use self-expression as a way to heal.

JDPP programs include a variety of opportunities for families with incarcerated members. Both York Moms & Kids and Dads & Kids at the Cybulski Reintegration Center work with families to build relationships between incarcerated parents, their children and caregivers. Sessions include talent shows, shared lunches, Mother’s Day visits and art activities planned by parents and JDPP staff.

Another program is New Beginnings, a workshop designed for those recently released from incarceration to help with reintegrating into society. The program had 11 students this year, the highest number to date. With two sessions a year, and three months to prepare for performances, members can dedicate time to self-improvement and care. “It brought me out of a shell of ignorance,” says New Beginnings member Karen. Participant Elle said, “The program is life changing, it creates, it heals.”

The workshop also included presentations of past performances, as well as life showings of members’ works, including Tyran, who performed his piece “Windows” and said the program “opened my heart.”

During the workshop, Dworin acknowledged the impact COVID-19 has had on the program. “Connection is really pivotal at this time, and at all times. Our experiences being isolated from family is what it’s like for people in prisons every day.” She said that while the pandemic has challenged them, it also has allowed for opportunities that otherwise would not be available. Now, members are sent prompts to continue their writing, and correspond virtually to practice for upcoming performances. The virtual setting has also allowed for connections with those who are out of state and has helped to spread JDPP’s mission.

When asked how JDPP has made connections and grown over the years, Dworin said that they have had help from many outside sources: “Former Governor Malloy put incarceration in the foreground as an issue, and we caught that wind at York.” She continued by saying that the national crisis of mass incarceration is becoming more serious.  “We can’t ignore it any longer, some of these problems are just going to explode. Mass incarceration impacts an unfortunately high and unfair number of black and brown people,” and is an issue people need to pay attention to.

This University Hour event was sponsored by Professor Theresa Severance of the Criminology Program and Professor Alycia Bright-Holland of the Theatre Program. To learn more about JDPP, visit: https://www.judydworin.org/

Written by Molly Boucher