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York St John University

Using theatre to work with female prisoners

At two Yorkshire prisons, drama students and experts from York St John University have worked with female prisoners for six years, using theatre to transform their lives.

The Prison Partnership Project brings together communities that don’t usually collaborate – students, prisoners and prison staff. Through theatre, it explores experiences inside and outside prison and the pathway into the criminal justice system.

By preparing to perform, rehearsing life roles and acting out different characters, the women participating develop greater empathy, explore the power of personal history and learn to solve problems as a group.

Students explore first-hand the impact the creative arts can have on people's attitudes and how they understand their place in the world. For the prisoners drama becomes a way to think creatively and reimagine themselves, removing the limitations of their identity as an offender and working with students as a learner, a creator and a collaborator. This leads them to think differently about their identity, personal responsibility and capacity to change.

The Partnership has had a profound impact on many of the participants, preparing them with creative and life skills to support their release. It has also collaborated on the nationally acclaimed Donmar Warehouse Shakespeare Trilogy, all three plays were reimagined in a female prison setting.

The Prison Partnership works restoratively to give a voice and positive pathway to one of the most silenced groups in society.