state:
Michigan
Local history:
Genius Blossoms Behind Prison Walls
Can Prisons Be Sites of Culture and Leisure
Michgan State University | Citizens for Prison Reform
Exhibiting Partner:
Michigan History Center
702 W Kalamazoo St Lansing, MI 48915
September 8, 2018May 19, 2019

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States of Incarceration is coming to New York, West Virginia, and North Carolina in Spring 2020!

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Michigan: Genius Blossoms Behind Prison Walls
Can Prisons Be Sites of Culture and Leisure
Michgan State University | Citizens for Prison Reform

Opening in Jackson, Michigan in 1839, the State Prison of Southern Michigan (SPSM) was once known as the largest walled prison in the world. During the first half of the twentieth century, SPSM created sports teams, secular and religious musical groups, and several art programs that produced locally and nationally know athletes and artists, placing them at the forefront of the movement to make prisons sites of education and rehabilitation.

Leisure activities, such as pencil drawing, oil painting, and writing workshops fostered a sense of pleasure and creativity, collective and individual empowerment, ingenuity, self-discovery, and education. In spite of this, culture and leisure have been absent from current conversations about the prison's nearly 200-year history.

The work of incarcerated artists was featured in local and national newspapers magazines, at prestigious New York City art exhibits, and in The Spectator, a newspaper operated by detainees from the inside. This project reconsiders the history of SPSM through the lens of the art and writing of its incarcerated artists.

Our Point of View

We are a group of undergraduate students who studied the multifaceted, but largely unknown, history of Michigan's prisons. Our focus was Michigan's first penal institution and the ways that formal and informal educational and leisure activities were possible paths towards pleasure and self-discovery. We engaged in meaningful conversatins with local historians, prison activists and artists, and others directly impacted by Michigan's carceral state on local and national histories of crime and punishment, prison education and rehabilitation, and the treatment of incarcerated bodies.

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Michigan: Genius Blossoms Behind Prison Walls    Michgan State University
Can Prisons Be Sites of Culture and Leisure
Michigan: Genius Blossoms Behind Prison Walls
Can Prisons Be Sites of Culture and Leisure
  Michgan State University

National Exhibition Venue    Michigan History Center

Public Dialogues and Events
| September 8, 2018 – May 19, 2019

See Full Exhibition & Events Schedule
“I worked as a Corrections Officer and as a Probation Officer... I left the field because I saw again and again the disparity of treatment within the system. White males who were wealthy so often got a pass. Minorities always were punished more severly.”  — Exhibition Visitor
“My brother is a state police officer in Manistee. He hurts people.”  — Exhibition Visitor

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