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Organizations: Reforming Arts

Women are the fastest-growing demographic in prisons.

The number of women incarcerated in the United States increased by a staggering 646 percent, rising from 15,118 to 112,797 between 1980 and 2010.

Reforming Arts, a nonprofit based in Atlanta, is working to change those statistics by tapping into inmates’ creativity and strengthening their critical thinking skills.

“We provide an encouraging environment where students can achieve educational goals in order to examine their experiences and build purposeful, meaningful lives,” says Wende Ballew, founder and executive director.

She established the program in 2009 by teaching a theater class at Lee Arrendale State Prison in Alto, a maximum-security facility where women on Georgia’s death row are housed. Since then, Ballew has recruited 30 volunteers, mostly professors and artists, to teach in a certificate program for theater-infused liberal arts.

“My favorite work with Reforming Arts was the creative writing workshop I co-taught with fellow Atlanta novelist Anna Schachner,” says best-selling author Joshilyn Jackson. “Our students are in the process of learning to control their own narratives, and it is a powerful thing to watch. A woman who has found her voice can be an agent of change in her own life and positively impact other lives around her.”

The organization, funded by grants and donations, is branching out into the Whitworth Women’s Facility in Hartwell and hopes to partner with Georgia State University to enable students to earn college credit.

“Studies show that the higher the education level, the lower the recidivism rate,” Ballew says.

reformingarts.org

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