Art that Amplifies the Stories of Formerly Incarcerated People

Art that highlights the effects of long-term sentencing and the need to support and expand services for those who are reentering society.

The People’s Paper Co-op

The People’s Paper Co-op (PPC) is a women-led and women-focused art and advocacy project at the Village of Arts and Humanities based in Philadelphia. The PPC looks to women in reentry as the leading criminal justice experts the city needs to hear from and uses art to amplify their stories, dreams, and visions for a more just and free world. Twice a year, PPC provides paid fellowships to an inspiring group of formerly incarcerated women to organize creative campaigns to support and expand legal services, bailouts, and advocacy efforts. 

Because I Was Incarcerated

These pieces were done by The People’s Paper Co-op (Women in Reentry Arts & Advocacy Program) in collaboration with artist Shosh Gordon. PPC fellows spent weeks creating art, media campaigns, and silk-screened shirts to help raise awareness and funds for the Philadelphia Community Bail Fund’s Mama’s Day Bail Out campaign, which bails out mothers and female identifying caregivers of color for Mother’s Day. This poster series visualized the often-invisible labor, love, and nurture that go missing in communities when women are incarcerated.

Bill of Rights for Formerly Incarcerated Women (Article 3):

Courtesy of The People’s Paper Co-op; photo by Mark Strandquist and Faith Bartley

This piece was also done by the People’s Paper Co-op. PPC fellows interviewed over 100 formerly incarcerated women to create the Bill of Rights for Formerly Incarcerated Women. The document is separated into different articles that each focus on the key hurdles that women face in reentry. PPC fellows then created posters that illustrate each article. These posters are being printed and displayed in government buildings, social service spaces, and public events across the city.


The Reentry Think Tank

The Reentry Think Tank is an ongoing project that connects formerly incarcerated Philadelphians with artists, lawyers, and organizers to create exhibits, media campaigns, and public events focused on destroying stereotypes, transforming social services, and advocating for policies that can keep people free. Think Tank Fellows interviewed over 1,200 Philadelphians with criminal records to create the city’s first Reentry Bill of Rights, which has been exhibited at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, City Hall, and legal clinics and community spaces across the city. 

Reentry Bill of Rights Preamble

Reentry Bill of Rights Preamble. Courtesy The People’s Paper Co-op and the Reentry Think Tank

This piece, created by The Reentry Think Tank in collaboration with artist Kate Deciccio, was made using spray paint and handmade paper from pulped criminal records. During interviews with Philadelphians with criminal records, Think Tank fellows asked, “If you were in power, what would you do to keep people free?” The responses were transformed into the Reentry Bill of Rights. Think Tank fellows then worked with artists Kate Deciccio, Mark Strandquist, and Courtney Bowles to create a series of portraits for each article of the Reentry Bill of Rights.

A Blueprint for Keeping Us Free

A Blueprint for Keeping Us Free. Courtesy the Reentry Think Tank

Another portrait created by Think Tank fellows for The Reentry Bill of Rights series. The piece consists of letterpress printed on paper that was made from shredded criminal records. The lettering is by Reentry Think Tank Fellow Jym Baker. Since its inception in 2017, The Reentry Bill of Rights has continued to grow and evolve. This iteration is part of a 10-page letterpress edition of 20, where Think Tank Fellows designed portraits to represent some of the many obstacles people face when returning home. Courtesy the Reentry Think Tank


Sam Kirk.

Print Designs For Essays

This piece is by Sam Kirk, one of 15 Chicago-area artists who were asked to create print designs in response to essays from The Long Term: Resisting Life Sentences, Working for our Freedom. The essays, released by the Prison & Neighborhood Arts Project (P+NAP) in October 2018, focus on long-term sentencing and the long-term struggle for freedom. 



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  1. Unfortunately the real problem is not one of setting up one more socialist program to fund the artistic production of the victims of another socialist program, in this case the War on Drugs. The real problem is abolishing the War on Drugs, of reworking a justice system which functions as a factory for the production of delinquents. Consider. When all of the drugs now criminalized were freely bought and sold at the corner drug store, American cities like Baltimore, St. Louis, and New Orleans were peaceful prosperous growing places. Black incarceration levels were LOWER than those of whites. Black unemployment was less than that of whites. One has to understand that the War on Drugs in concert with other socialist programs was engineered to neutralize the political power blacks brought to bear in the 1960s to overturn Jim Crow. The black historian Michelle Alexander has written extensively on this point. The War on Drugs allowed the ruling political class to attack black society with a savagery and level of destruction undreamed of in the Jim Crow era. It has been used to arrest tens of millions of blacks, to incarcerate many many millions, to turn once prosperous neighborhoods into war zones teeming with warring drug gangs the better to drive out industry and business and leave then entire community bereft of hope.


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