Patti Thomas and Pat Biggs, who both have incarcerated family
members, have a message to share with University students: Think
twice before judging prisoners.

Beth Dykstra
Patty Thomas talks to students and Ann Arbor residents about the experience of having a family member in prison at the Michigan League on Saturday. (JOEL FRIEDMAN/Daily)

On Saturday, Thomas and Biggs shared their stories at a dialogue
called Families of the Incarcerated, sponsored by the Prisoner
Creative Arts Project. The two women talked about what it is like
to have an incarcerated family member as well as the role PCAP
plays in the lives of prisoners.

Bigg’s husband Jamal has been in prison for 14 years.
According to Pat, Jamal has participated in several PCAP workshops
and has used the program as a way to further his art skills.
Currently, several examples of his artwork are being shown at the
PCAP show at the Media Union Gallery on North Campus.

One of the issues that Pat Biggs talked about is how other
people view the imprisoned. She said that most people see prisoners
as monsters, and as less than human.

“People look at prisoners as outcasts and as horrible
people, but they’re just people who made mistakes, and
they’re paying for them — they’re just human
beings like everyone else.”

Biggs praised certain organizations like PCAP that are trying to
help prisoners and break down the stereotypes that are often formed
about them.

“PCAP gives (the prisoners) an opportunity to express
themselves and to show the world that they have something to offer.
When my husband has his artwork in the PCAP art show, he is so
thrilled to know that people would actually take the time to look
at his artwork, even pay for it,” Biggs said.

Patti Thomas, whose daughter Santha is incarcerated at Western
Wayne Correctional Facility in Plymouth, also shared her thoughts
on the benefits of PCAP. She said PCAP has given Santha a form of
expression, and that she has changed for the better by being
involved.

The PCAP organization is a campus program started by English
Prof. Buzz Alexander. Alexander’s English 319 class,
Literature and Social Change, focuses on how imprisonment affects
the incarcerated and their families.

As part of the class, students go into Michigan correctional and
juvenile facilities to teach arts workshops to the prisoners.
Through the PCAP program, prisoners are given the opportunity to
participate in workshops covering topics like theater and creative
writing.

“The student response to English 319 has been very
powerful and the class led to the formation of the PCAP program.
The response from the University and from the English department
has also been wonderful, and the response from the incarcerated
youth and adults has been more than we could have imagined,”
Alexander said.

Saturday’s event was run by LSA junior Jessica Schwartz
and LSA senior Jenifer Scheyer. Scheyer and Schwartz were enrolled
in English 319 and given the opportunity to be trained in teaching
arts programs for young people who are in prison.

Scheyer and Schwartz said they believe that PCAP is not only
beneficial to the prisoners, but also to the student volunteers.
Schwartz, who teaches a writing workshop at W.J. Maxey Boys
Training School, said she has been greatly affected by her
volunteer work with PCAP.

“I’ve been so inspired by the incarcerated people
I’ve met through PCAP and their families. The people have so
much wisdom and talent and they’re so honest in their
writing, it’s truly inspiring,” Schwartz said.

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