How Rehabilitation through the Arts helped one man through a 22-year prison sentence


At the age of 25, Jermaine Archer received a 22-year sentence in New York’s Sing Sing maximum security prison. There, he participated in the Rehabilitation through the Arts program, also known as RTA. He says this project completely changed his time in prison.

Participant, Rehabilitation through the Arts

You’ll find whatever you want in that prison. If you want trouble, there is a whole lot of that to find, but if you want to better yourself and educate yourself, then you can do that too at Sing Sing. RTA was a perfect venue for me to come into and express all the feelings that I had. The negative, the hostility, the anger, wearing a mask all day—in prison you can’t be yourself.

The Rehabilitation through the Arts program teaches inmates skills that will enable them to better reintegrate into society. Founded in 1996, the program offers workshops in theater, dance, music, writing and visual arts.

For Jermaine, who does not consider himself an artist by nature, the program was more than an educational opportunity. He said that performing “gave him back his individuality.”

Participant, Rehabilitation through the Arts

I was cathartic, that I could act, that was my first opportunity to put on clothes, regular clothes. Not a uniform. I was able to put on jeans and I had missed jeans. I always wore jeans when I was home. To be able to put denim jeans during a production, and a suit—all of those things were big. I couldn’t cry for being in prison for 22 years, I couldn’t cry for missing my family, I couldn’t cry for not seeing my children grow up, but when I got on the stage, I was able to release it all, all of it came out one night.

The program not only changed his perspective, but also had a strong impact on his family.

Participant, Rehabilitation through the Arts

The commision of programs decided that families need to see the men in this role, they need to see us different, because they only get to come on visits, we sit on chairs, we eat microwave food, they don’t really get to see us transform, they dont get to see us in regular clothes. The first time they got to see the production live and how it made me feel seeing my family in the audience, how it made them feel seeing me up on stage in a whole different light. It gives them hope that when he comes home he’s gonna be okay.

The rehabilitation program seeks to answer this question: When prisoners return to society, what kind of people do you want them to be? Less than 3% of RTA members reoffend and return to prison—a vastly different figure compared to the national rate of 60%.


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