Art on the Inside

There is more creative spirit and talent among incarcerated people than you might think.

Check out the special exhibition of artworks by incarcerated and formerly incarcerated artists at MoMA PS1 in New York. Concluding April 4, the exhibition can be viewed virtually through the Bloomberg Connects app. Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration is the product of 35 artists – each of whom has experienced the prison system. You can read a review by Griffin Oleynick here.

Image credit: Tameca Cole, ‘Locked in a Dark Calm,’ 2016
(Collection Ellen Driscoll/Courtesy of MoMa PS1)

Two of our Hope-Western Prison Education Program students are talented visual artists. Here are a few examples of their work.

Image Credit: Alvin Smith, ‘Full Service’ 2020.

These two works were created as part of a final project in Professor Pam Bush’s Communicating With Courage and Compassion course, and summarize the student-artists’ transformation through non-violent communication:

Image Credit: Alvin Smith, ‘So What I Hear You Saying Is…’ 2020.
Image credit: Loren Key, ‘Toma & Range‘ 2020. (This is the first panel of a multi-panel graphic short story. Note the anchor-themed belt buckle.)

What’s Happening With The Prison Program?

It’s been a year since COVID forced us to end face-to-face instruction in Curtis Gruenler and Dennis Feaster’s Life Together: An Interdisciplinary Study of Community and Friendship course at Muskegon Correctional Facility. Since that time so much has happened, but quite a bit hasn’t happened as well. Many have asked us “What’s the latest with the prison program?” Here’s a quick summary:

  • We have worked to maintain a learning community among the first cohort of Hope-Western Prison Education Program students:
    • A two-page newsletterHope on the Inside – is sent to the students every two weeks. News of the college and seminary, reflections on their readings, and writing intended to help advance their spiritual formation are common elements.
    • Curtis and Dennis completed the last half of their course through correspondence. We delivered books, articles, and assignments to the Warden. His staff distributed the materials to the students. We returned a couple of months later to collect their papers. Curtis and Dennis read and marked the papers, which we returned to the Warden for distribution back to the students.
    • A second correspondence course – Faith, Leadership, and Service – was delivered to the prison around Thanksgiving. The papers from that course have been collected and are being graded at this time by a team of Hope and WTS students, along with David Stubbs, Pam Bush, and Richard Ray.
    • A third correspondence course – a book study – is in the planning stage.
  • We have initiated planning for a return to face-to-face teaching – hopefully by Fall 2021. We hope to initiate the first credit-bearing courses of the curriculum approved by Hope’s Academic Affairs Board in April 2019 at that time. There are many moving parts to be able to get back into the prison as COVID is slowly beaten back.
  • We began working with a new warden. HWPEP’s founding warden, Sherry Burt, retired on January 1. She was succeeded by her deputy, Darrell Steward. He is a big supporter of HWPEP, and we look forward to working with him.
  • The Congress voted to reinstate the eligibility of incarcerated students for Federal Pell Grants. This has been a big, big battle since mid-1990s. It will be a huge thing for our HWPEP students.
  • We continue to be guided and advised by the HWPEP Steering Committee. And we have recruited a group of wonderful, wise, connected, and generous supporters to serve on the HWPEP’s Circle of Advisors.
  • We’ve deepened our understanding of the national state of higher education in prison by attending (virtually) the National Conference on Higher Education in Prison. It was gratifying to learn that the steps being taken during COVID by the nation’s flagship college-in-prison programs are the same ones we’ve adopted.

Thanks for your continuing interest in HWPEP and our Hope College students living and learning at Muskegon Correctional Facility. To stay up to date with what’s what with HWPEP and higher education in prison generally, please subscribe to our monthly newsletter.


The Hope-Western Prison Education Program provides a Christian liberal arts education to incarcerated students at Muskegon Correctional Facility. HWPEP is a partnership between Hope College, Western Theological Seminary, and the Michigan Department of Corrections.

The Hope-Western Prison Education Program Seeks To:

  • Extend the Hope College and Western Theological Seminary missions to those living in incarcerated environments.
  • Transform the hearts and minds of prisoners and all involved in the program, thereby enlarging their imaginations for purposeful living as flourishing, beloved children of God made in His image and likeness.
  • Ease the burden to the community by reducing recidivism, lowering tax burdens associated with the corrections system, and improving the safety of and culture for prisoners and prison staff.
  • Bring together persons of good will from a variety of political, ideological and theological perspectives.

Did You Know?

Study after study shows that prison education programs not only benefit and transform the incarcerated, but they also transform the prison community. Here’s why:

  • 43% reduction in recidivism among parolees who participate in prison education programs.
  • 13% increase in post-release employment for parolees who participate in prison education programs.
  • Return on investment for prison education programs ranges from 1:5 to as high as 1:12.
  • A 70% reduction in misconduct incidents.
  • Improved safety and positive culture of prisons.
  • By a 2-to-1 margin, crime victims prefer that the criminal justice system focus more on rehabilitating people who commit crimes.
  • By a margin or nearly 3-to-1, crime victims believe that prison makes people more likely to commit crimes than to rehabilitate them.
  • By a 3-to-1 margin, crime victims prefer holding people accountable through options beyond more incarceration.

Stay tuned for more information about the Hope-Western Prison Education Program. To contribute financially to the college education of our students, please click the button below.

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