In tandem with Coby Kennedy’s artwork Kalief Browder: The Box, Pioneer Works and For Freedoms presented Beyond The Box, a four-part program series to consider the realities of mass incarceration through the lens of art and activism. The programs followed the four new freedoms created for For Freedoms’ 2020 Awakening campaign and our work beyond: Listening, Awakening, Healing, and Justice.
Just as Kennedy’s sculptural installation communicates a fraction of the physical, emotional and psychological torment of solitary confinement, the series aimed to provide a creatively-driven introduction to the myriad ways in which the United States’ current carceral system has impacted individuals and communities. By inviting a dynamic roster of artists, activists and experts to conduct open dialogues with one another, For Freedoms and Pioneer Works hoped to imagine into the future, and collectively envision a transformed world without prisons.
The second program, LISTENING for Individual Stories, focused on the individual impact of mass incarceration. The program began with spoken word performances by Rowland Davis and Pastor Isaac Scott--two formerly incarcerated poets, who, through their art, shared some of their lived experiences. Following the performance, moderator Devon Simmons was joined by the poets for a discussion of their work, linking their creative paths and experiences in the carceral system with Coby Kennedy’s installation.
About the Panelists
Rowland Davis spent twenty-nine years incarcerated as a teenager. Determined to do better in his life, he became active by involving himself in education: first obtaining his GED, and then going on to be one of the first college students enrolled in the Prison-to-College Pipeline program at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Davis also facilitated and worked as a coordinator for the Alternative to Violence Program AVP for over twenty years. He has worked with at-risk youth during his incarceration, and is now continuing to do so at BronxConnect, an anti-gun violence, community-based organization that offers alternative-justice, cure violence, and re-entry programs to help communities build from within.
Pastor Isaac Scott is a Fellow at the Center for Institutional and Social Change at Columbia Law School, and Founder & Lead-Artist for The Confined Arts at the Center for Justice at Columbia University, where he spearheads the promotion of justice reform through the transformative power of the arts. His research at Columbia investigates social and institutional methods of dehumanization in the carceral system to decrease punitive triggers in the US criminal justice system. Through The Confined Arts, Pastor Scott has organized art exhibitions, poetry performances, and storytelling projects to interrogate and bring about awareness around several important issues, such as juvenile justice, solitary confinement, prison conditions, the rising rate of women in prison and the media’s role in shaping public perception. As a result of this impactful work, Pastor Scott received the 2018, 2019, and 2020 Change Agent Award from the School of General Studies at Columbia University, where he currently studies Visual Arts and Human Rights as a Justice in Education Scholar Scholar.
About the Moderator
Devon Simmons, a Harlem native, is a 2019 Atlantic Fellow for Racial Equity. In 2012, while incarcerated at Otisville Correctional Facility, he enrolled in John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s Prison-to-College Pipeline program. Soon after his release, following over 15 years of imprisonment, he obtained his AA (with honors) from Hostos Community College, and subsequently graduated summa cum laude from John Jay with a BA in criminal justice. As a global ambassador for higher education, he has traveled to Cuba, England, Jamaica, and South Africa in an effort to help establish prison-to-college pipeline programs internationally.
About Negative Space
The production management company Negative Space was conceived in response to the pandemic’s dramatic effects on the ways we interact and a growing need for more public art. Working in the space behind the scenes, Negative Space helps artists and organizations who are socially-engaged to produce contemporary public artworks that strive to advance social justice. Negative Space offers project management with principles of inclusivity, empathy, transparency and accessibility, and has worked with clients like Hank Willis Thomas, Radical Media, Incarceration Nations Network, The Brave House, and now Pioneer Works.
This series was co-presented by For Freedoms and Pioneer Works, and was organized by Negative Space.