The Alabama Prison Arts + Education Project was not formed on a particular day in the past. It was and continues to be an evolving program fueled by a dedicated group of scholars, artists, and writers who believe that knowledge and creative development can change someone’s life.
The first phase of what is now APAEP was called the Alabama Prison Arts Initiative, which was first funded by the National Endowment for the Arts in 2003. The Center for the Arts & Humanities in the College of Liberal Arts at Auburn University served as the fiscal agent for the small initiative.
In 2004, APAEP took its current name when it became a full-time program of Caroline Marshall Draughon Center for the Arts & Humanities with an administrative position dedicated to the growth of the program. The goals of APAEP have always been to place rich creative and intellectual opportunities in Alabama’s prisons, a remarkably underserved population.
APAEP grew from one poet teaching in one prison, to a pool of more than 100 writers, artists, scholars, and visiting writers teaching in twelve correctional facilities in Alabama. Course offerings have grown from poetry to a wide variety of courses in the arts and humanities: The Tall Tale, Southern Literature, American Women’s Poetry, War and Literature, Social History of Alabama, Innovative Drawing, Multi-media Art, Drawing and Advanced Drawing, among many others. With each new teacher, our curriculum expands.
On January 1, 2008, APAEP moved to the Department of Psychology in the College of Liberal Arts. The move to this highly regarded academic department served to strengthen APAEP in multiple capacities. Graduate students became more involved in research on the impacts of APAEP programming. After two years in the Psychology Department, APAEP moved to the College of Liberal Arts, and then into the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, in the College of Human Science. In 2016, APAEP moved to its current home in University College.
APAEP and the MFA program in Creative Writing at the University of Alabama have formed a strong partnership, which allows APAEP to increase the number of classes offered each semester, in addition to providing the rewarding opportunity for graduate students and faculty to teach in the prisons. The UA MFA program has established Prison Arts Fellowships to support graduate students each semester to teach.
In the spring of 2012, APAEP offered its first programming in hard sciences and mathematics through partnering with the College of Agriculture and the College of Science and Math. In 2013, the first engineering classes were offered. In the fall of 2013, the first beginning Algebra class. This program grows as we find opportunities to build partnerships at the University-level, to offer programming such as the relationship classes, as well as building the SPARKs science and math lecture series.
In January 2017, APAEP began new programming through the U.S. Department of Education Experimental Sites program called Second Chance Pell Initiative. This minimum 3-year project grants Pell funds to a select group of universities and colleges nationwide as an effort to understand impact and strong strategies for higher education within prisons. Auburn University/APAEP was chosen as one of 67 sites nationally. Pell funding was taken away from incarcerated people in 1994, effectively destroying most higher educational programming in prisons around the country.
We offer a Bachelor of Science degree in Interdisciplinary Studies, combining Business and Human Development and Family Studies. The reasons for these two focal areas are pragmatically driven. We want a degree that would serve the largest number of students in the broadest potential use for the degree. We want students to have options and a strong foundation, no matter where they return or what they want to do. We believe this degree will help them through academic study into human development and behavior and business because this foundation could help someone start their own small business. This would take away the hurdle that so many formerly incarcerated face with “checking the box.” It also is a strong skill set to present to a potential employer, and this can be in small-town Alabama, in Birmingham, or elsewhere.