Acting Up program offers Wayne Brown Correctional Facility inmates a unique opportunity |

Acting Up program offers Wayne Brown Correctional Facility inmates a unique opportunity

Acting coach John Deaderick, right, with inmates learning to follow the Acting Up course through situational improvisation.
Photos submitted by Radu Sava |

Nevada County Arts Council has just wrapped workshops called Acting Up at the Wayne Brown Correctional Facility.

Over the course of the last three months, the council commissioned actor, director and playwright John Deaderick to teach theater and acting to about 20 inmates, varying in age from early 20s to early 70s, and serving time for a variety of offenses. The series was the result of an unusual partnership with California Lawyers for the Arts, a statewide organization with headquarters in San Francisco.

“We are really pleased with our collaboration with Nevada County Arts Council,” Nevada County Sheriff’s Captain Shannan Moon said. “Anytime we can provide evidence based programs to our incarcerated population, it has the potential to assist and help prevent them falling into the same cycle of committing crimes when they are released. The inmates enjoyed the Arts-in-Corrections classes, as seen by their participation and completion of the program — and there are obvious signs of increased respect for one another and our staff.”

When asked about the changes inmate participants now planned to make in their lives, here was some feedback jail staff and Nevada County Arts Council received:

“My interactions have become deeper. I feel I understand each person more … I feel happier, and have become more outgoing and cheerful …”

“The space help me to explore myself better. I feel I’m more relaxed and friendly and therefore able to make better decisions …”

Acting Up follows a report produced in late 2016 by California Lawyers for the Arts, in collaboration with Dr. Larry Brewster of the University of San Francisco, the William James Association, Fresno Arts Council, Community Works West and Jail Guitar Doors.

The report, Arts in Corrections: County Jails Project, was released “just as the U.S. Supreme Court was requiring the state to reduce severe overcrowding in the state’s prisons. In addition to having the nation’s largest state prison population, California also claimed one of the highest recidivism rates in the country at nearly 70 percent.”

“However,” said Eliza Tudor, Executive Director of Nevada County Arts Council, “we wanted, specifically, to serve Nevada County and it’s rare to find funding for county jails — so we are very grateful that California Lawyers for the Arts chose to partner with us. John Deaderick was a natural choice as teacher. He’s been in over 200 plays, films and commercials, has chaired the Drama Department at Colfax High School for many years and now teaches Acting and Theater History at Sierra College in Rocklin and at Sierra College’s Grass Valley Campus.”

The California County Jails Project is funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Quentin Hancock Fund and the Wallace A. Gerbode Foundation, and strives to bring a new level of awareness and appreciation for the value of effective arts programming in county jails.

“Our work has been to measure the behavioral and attitudinal changes experienced by the participants,” Tudor said. “Having now completed our surveys and met with senior prison staff over the course of our series, it’s clear a new trajectory has been set.”

Deaderick was moved by the results.

“My own experience has been profound … and I’ve been humbled working with these men,” Deaderick said. “They tell me they are far less judgmental of one another, and life’s lot, having participated in Acting Up — and that it’s changed the way they think about their future. I feel that I, too, have become far less judgmental and more compassionate.”

Broad evidence-based research shows inmates engaged in arts programs are less likely to be involved in disciplinary incidents and to re-offend after release. Jeff Pettit, Nevada County Sheriff Captain, and Robert Bringolf, Executive Lieutenant in Corrections at the Wayne Brown Correctional Facility speak highly of the program.

“I was surprised at how this class brought everyone together and how at ease the participants were with each other,” Pettit said. “Correctional facilities are not typically known as a place to let your guard down. After speaking with the participants of the class, I was amazed at how much it benefitted their wellbeing.

“Many reported reduced anxiety and felt better equipped to deal with the stresses of incarceration. With the changes in recent laws, we are seeing longer jail sentences in facilities that were never designed for long term housing. Classes like this help break up the monotony of the day to day and reduce the stress and anxiety felt by the inmates. This, in turn, can lead to a reduction in assaults and violence within the facility.”

Bringolf echoed Pettit’s sentiments.

“I was absolutely amazed at the level of camaraderie and emotional intimacy this group of actors had with one another,” Bringolf said. “This project brought different groups of inmates together who might previously have had nothing in common with one another; this class left them as friends. I can only imagine breaking down the social barriers among inmates will serve to reduce instances of violence among involved populations. I am very impressed with this program and hope to be able to find funding to continue with something similar in the near future.”

Tudor hopes Nevada County Arts Council’s work continues in this area.

“We’d like to do more work with disadvantaged youth caught up in the juvenile justice system at Juvenile Hall, and we’d also like to work with female inmates at our county jail,” Tudor said. “We are hoping that with the fantastic staff at each of our county institutions, we’ll be breaking ground in these areas soon.”

Source: Nevada County Arts Council

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