Inside/Outside: The Prison Project

An Arts Residency with Incarcerated Persons

Inside/Outside: The Prison Project has completed 13 sessions with incarcerated ‘residents’ of River City Correctional Center. Contemporary Dance Theater partners with a number of artists to use poetry, movement, and visual arts to affect the lives of persons in prison over residencies lasting weeks.

The following information gives insight into this program’s history and form, but more information is available at the official website at insideoutside.homestead.com.

The Vision

In the spirit of exploration, a Cincinnati-based artist team hopes to share the joy of writing, movement, drama, and visual art with the men and women of Inside/Outside. The team’s vision is that each participant embarks on a journey of self-discovery, finding his or her own voice and mapping his or her own course. Using the past and future to shape the present, the participants and facilitators each tap into our inner wisdom and are empowered by the warmth and community of others. Expressing ourselves in a new way gives us comfort and insight, so that from this time on, the arts can be a refuge and a beacon for a healthy future.

This program is sponsored by The Ohio Arts Council.

Elements of Inside/Outside

Inside/Outside is a model easily replicated by, or adapted to, the uses of other organizations. The collaborators have been extremely intentional about not only what they have created, but how they have created it. All the elements of Inside/Outside:

a. The integration of writing, visual art, movement, and performance (layering each around a theme).
b. The creation of a public performance out of the various artistic projects conceived during our residency at the prison.
c. The artists’ planning sessions.
d. The simple rituals used to gather and ground the participants.
e. The leadership structure has been documented in both written and visual form.

More importantly, the collaborators meet before, during, and after the residency to create, and to reflect upon our methods. As a result, the group as a whole, or any individual within the group, could teach the model to another organization.

History of ISOS

Inside/Outside began in February, 2001 with the participation of individual artists and organizations in an intensive training conducted in Cincinnati by the Pat Graney Dance Company of Seattle. The training involved Cincinnati participants in the creation of an integrated arts program for women at River City Correctional Facility.

The residency of the combined Seattle and Cincinnati artists’ teams culminated in two performances at River City. Interweaving poetry, movement, and visual arts created by incarcerated women, the performances were attended by audiences composed of incarcerated women and men, River City staff, and members of the general public including city officials, corrections professionals, local artists, and friends of the arts.

The success of the original work with the Pat Graney Dance Company, and the intensive team-building sessions engaged in by the Cincinnati artist team, resulted in an ongoing commitment to collaborate together. In June of 2001, INSIDE/OUTSIDE received a Strategic Collaboration Grant from the Fine Arts Fund to launch its own pilot program at River City. The 10-week program, which ran from August to December 2001, was a tremendous success.

The collaboration has continued across 13 sessions so far. The creation of the Apprenticeship Program was implemented during the third series of workshops and is ongoing today. These artistic apprenticeships ensure the future of the program and spread awareness about our work within the community. The team also hopes to expand its work with an aftercare program to help released inmates continue their engagement in the arts.


Over the years, individual sessions of ISOS have been supported by:

  • Fine Arts Fund
  • The Ohio Arts Council
  • The Purdy Foundation
  • The Emery Foundation
  • The Tomcinoh Foundation
  • The Wohlgemuth Herschede Foundation
  • Duke Energy
  • Manuel D. and Rhoda Mayerson Foundation
  • The City of Cincinnati
  • And, individual donors of all sizes.

A special thank you to all those supporters!

In addition, ISOS was the runner-up for the Peter F. Drucker Award for Nonprofit Innovation in 2004.

If you wish to give your support toward this life-changing program, or if you would like to be kept abreast of its public presentations, please join our mailing list at cdt-dance.org/join or contact Jefferson James at jefferson@cdt-dance.org.

If you would like to help Inside/Outside continue its programming, please consider making a contribution, contact: Jefferson James c/o Contemporary Dance Theater, 1805 Larch Avenue, Cincinnati, Ohio 45224-2928. CDT is a 501(c)3  organization and donations are tax-deductible in accordance with the law.

A Poem: “Of What Do We Make Our Homes” by ISOS XIII (2010)

(After Jean Nordhaus)

Of brick. Of sheet metal. Of hope. Of disappointment.
Of tears. Of truth. Of lies and deceit. A wood burning stove.
A sister. A brother. Of pain. Of fire. Of siblings. Of both parents.
Of cardboard. Of broken dishes.
Of haylofts. Of bunk beds. Of blanket tents.
A forest can be a home.
A beach can be a home.
Laughter can be a home.
A teddy bear. A dog. A cat.
Of addiction. Of stress. Of shame. Of drugs to blame.
Of cats. Of chaos.
A music box. A few crayons. Of silence. Of sickness.
Of the dead. Of night. Of tenderness. Of leaving.
Clouds can be a home.
Nature can be a home.
A good meal can be a home.
I’ll build my house of dreams.
I’ll build my house of roses and grass.
I’ll build my house with bare hands and hard work.
I’ll build my house of love, of leaving, of trust, of silence, of my own kind.

By the Women of the River City Correctional Center Chrysalis Pod, ISOS XIII, compiled by Carolyn Brookbank