SACRAMENTO (AP) – For seven years, inmates at a Southern California state prison have learned to express themselves through acting, acquiring skills that actor Tim Robbins says can change their lives.

The program will now expand as the California Arts Council and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation announced Thursday it will spend $2.5 million over the next two years to bring the arts to 14 state prisons.

Robbins has starred in movies including “The Shawshank Redemption,” ”Bull Durham” and “Mystic River.” He is also artistic director of the Actors’ Gang Prison Project, which has offered theater arts programs in California prisons since 2006, including the California Rehabilitation Center in Norco for the last seven years.

“We find that it fundamentally changes the inmates that participate. It also helps the prison at large because it can change the culture of the prison,” Robbins said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “They tell us they can talk to their children for the first time when they’re visiting and can express emotion to them.”

His group had been providing services without charge but will now be able to expand into other prisons with the grant money. It is one of one of seven groups that will offer Arts-in-Corrections programs. Besides theater, the programs will include music, dance, creative writing, poetry, storytelling, painting, drawing and sculpture.

Though prisons are usually rigorously self-segregated by race and gang affiliation, Robbins said his organization insisted that the acting program include inmates of all stripes.

“We’ve had sessions where we’ve had white supremacists and Crips and Asians, and what happens in that room is so profound that the guys tell us, to a man, that the bonds that they made in that room are far more important than they’ve had previously,” he said.


Copyright 2014 The Associated Press.


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