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Courses

PCAP's undergraduate courses train students to facilitate creative arts workshops in state prisons, youth detention and treatment centers, and prison reentry programs. Graduate students may also enroll in some courses. Contact PCAP at for more information.

Fall 2022

ENGLISH 221 - Literature and Writing Outside the Classroom

“How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” asked E.M. Forster, in a statement that opens syllabi almost as often as “Since the dawn of mankind” opens student papers. Forster’s comment suggests that writing upends the common-sense relationship between thought and language, in which you have an idea, then find the “right” words for it. Plainly, many accomplished writers experience the process of writing as a mystery. And yet the culture of the university (as well as the demands of most white-collar jobs) urges us to get some sort of a handle, intellectually and personally, on that process.

This course invites you to reflect on your own process as writers and thinkers, and on other people’s processes, and what these say about the different functions of writing and writers in different places and times. On the further assumption that you never know a thing half as well as when you are forced to help someone else do it, this course also invites you, as a culmination of your reflections on your own process, to assist others with theirs. To do so, the course will partner with the Prison Creative Arts Project's Michigan Review of Prisoner Creative Writing, a yearly anthology of work by inmates in Michigan prisons. This journal, produced by students and community volunteers, offers concrete and individualized feedback to each of the hundreds of writers whose work is rejected each year; you will have the opportunity to exemplify and complete your learning in this course by taking on a few such rejected manuscripts themselves.

Full course description

RCHUMS 332 - The Atonement Project

This course will teach students about restorative justice, reconciliation, and atonement. We will explore questions of why and how artistic activity can begin and/or support processes of reconciliation for people who have committed crimes and for crime victims. Students in this class will facilitate weekly art workshops in adult prisons, juvenile detention centers, and community venues where former prisoners, crime victims, and the families of those groups can gather together. Focusing on the themes of acknowledgment, apology, and atonement, the workshops will produce original performances, creative writing, and visual art presented at the end of the semester by both the student facilitators and the members of the workshop. Ultimately this course seeks to identify the best strategies for using the arts to address crime and those most affected by it.

Full course description. 

RCARTS 334 - Special Topics in the Creative Arts

Cellblock Prints is a special topics studio-based printmaking course, with a focus on relief printing, and a community engaged learning course that is part of the Prison Creative Arts Project curriculum. We will be establishing the basis of collaborative print projects through weekly workshops at Women’s Huron Valley (WHV) Correctional Facility in Ypsilanti after covering carving and printing techniques in the printmaking/drawing studio in East Quad. Project themes will be determined through a collaborative brainstorming session between all participants - UM students and inmates at WHV, the only women’s prison in Michigan. Students will visit the prison to facilitate workshops with prisoners, making prints both independently and in collaboration with incarcerated participants. Students will develop skills in relief printing including drawing images conducive to the medium, carving or gouging blocks, and printing one-of-a-kind or editioned prints. Then we will transition to teaching these basic principles in the prison workshop setting.

In addition to the technical elements of printmaking, students will be introduced to basic theory and approaches of socially engaged community-based creative practice. Readings, accompanied by class discussions, will be used to integrate a more informed approach to the collaborative creative work. At its core, the course will serve as an opportunity to learn and practice socially engaged art.

Students are required to participate in the PCAP training at the start of the term and follow visiting protocols as established by the Michigan Department of Corrections.

Full course description. 

RCHUMS 423 - Out of the Blue

An SMTD outreach ensemble in partnership with the Prison Creative Arts Project. Students will perform and lead workshops in prisons, community and youth detention centers. Undergraduate, graduate, U-M alumni and community members for PCAP program are allowed to audition and participate in this ensemble.

Full course description. 

Winter 2023

RCARTS 265.001 - Socially Engaged Prison Photography

Socially Engaged Prison Photography is a special photography lab-based course. The course is built around a collaborative project between the members of the course and inmates at a local prison. Students will visit the prison to facilitate workshops with prisoners, making photographs as one of the products of the workshops. Students will develop skills in photographic tools, including cameras, Photoshop, and digital printing. The course will also provide opportunity to integrate artistic production into a community-based setting.

This course will serve as an introduction to socially engaged arts practice, with collaborative photography at its center. We will be establishing the basics of collaborative projects, through weekly workshops at Thumb Correctional Facility (Lapeer, MI). We will cover the building blocks of photography in the classroom. Then we will transition to teaching these basic principles in the prison workshop setting. In addition to the technical elements of photography, students will be introduced to basic theory and approaches of socially engaged community-based creative practice. Readings, accompanied by class discussions, will be used to integrate a more informed approach to the collaborative creative work.

Students will be evaluated on their participation and leadership for weekly workshops at Thumb CF, photographic work throughout the semester, and class participation. Students are required to participate in the PCAP training at the start of the term, and should also account for travel time to Lapeer when considering their schedule.

RCORE 334.002/ENS 451 - Special Topics: Out of the Blue Choir

Out of the Blue is an auditioned outreach choral ensemble that partners with the Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP), UM alumni and the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to bring choral concerts and workshops to prisons, juvenile detention centers and re-entry homes across Southeast, Michigan.  Comprised of UM students (music and non-music majors), alumni and community members, the singers receive training from the PCAP Office and Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion on how to thoughtfully perform music in non-traditional settings as well as enhance their knowledge about the history of the Michigan prison system.

THTREMUS 335/RCHUMS 335 - Theatre and Incarceration

Artistic practice in prisons has occurred since the inception of prisons themselves, though popular thought tends not to connect the idea of the arts with that of criminal justice systems. This course surveys the history of performance in prisons through the examination of plays written by and about incarcerated people as well as narratives which chronicle the process of creating theatre in prisons. The course also interrogates various strategies for creating performances in prisons, questioning the utility and goals of each process of creation and seeking to identify those which are most sustainable and which best serve participants in the process.  Students will use some of these strategies in practice as they facilitate correspondence theatre workshops in prisons.

Instructor permission required. Email lucasash@umich.edu for more information or to receive an override to enroll in the course.

HISTART 393 - Visual Art and Incarceration

This course looks at visual art made under the conditions of confinement and imprisonment, principally in the context of the criminal justice system.  Prisons have become dynamic sites of artistic activity, with incarcerated artists engaged in drawing, painting, 3D construction, and tattoo designs, using materials that are readily available. We will explore the relationship between the restrictive conditions of incarceration, on the one hand, and the expression of creativity and a visual imaginary, a “carceral aesthetic,” and the socio-economic and cultural dimensions of prison art within and outside of carceral institutions, on the other hand.  While the focus will be on mass incarceration within the United States, there will also be a historical and cross-cultural consideration of other contexts in which visual art has been produced by enclosed populations within institutions of confinement (like early modern European nunneries and plague hospitals, and modern internment camps). A critical component of this seminar will be involvement in the University of Michigan Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP)—with students facilitating a PCAP visual arts “correspondence workshop” with participants in a Michigan prison facility, and by engaging with the PCAP Annual Exhibition of Art by Michigan Prisoners.