Arts in Prison

Arlin Buyert, center, is poetry instructor for the Arts in Prison project. JoAnna Ramsey, l, and Lex Cortes, r, are former classmates in the project.

Johnson County Library partners with Kansas City’s The Writers Place on a series of readings: the Thomas Zvi Wilson series. As part of that series, the Arts in Prison project is occasionally scheduled. A February 20 public reading at the Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center featured participants who read from works produced in the class.

Arts in Prison has been an institution at the Lansing Correctional Facility for more than two decades, and officials behind its poetry program believe it’s helping keep reformed inmates out of jail. “The general recidivism rate in Kansas is around 50 percent. Half the inmates are back within three years,” says Arlin Buyert, the poetry instructor. “But, for whatever reason, inmates who participate in my poetry program have almost no recidivism.” According to Buyert, out of the 15 inmates who have gone through the program and have since been released, only one has returned to prison and that was because of a parole violation.

Poet participants say that poetry has a way of breaking down political barriers in prison and helping to alleviate the heavy burdens of a dark past. “Prison is very segregated, and in poetry you have a mix of different people,” JoAnna Ramsey says. "Getting past prison life is a process and it’s slow, but being able to write helps that along."

“Poetry gives people an opportunity to know they are still people,” Ramsey says. “The great part about America is that we’re a land of second chances, and poetry and art is something that connects us all.” Buyert echoed Ramsey’s sentiments, adding that it’s easy for people outside of prison to forget that those inside are still people. “They’re human. They have worth. They’re poets,” Buyert said.

This post relies on notes published about the reading by reporter Zac Summers in an online article for local Fox affiliate. See his story here.