Given the status of the criminal justice system in the United States, it’s not difficult for someone’s life to be completely thrown off track if convicted of a crime, no matter how much talent they have. The Soze Agency, a national creative agency co-founded by Michael Skolnik , has launched a $100,000 fellowship to remedy this very issue.
As part of “The Right of Return USA Fellowship,” five artists who spent time in the U.S. penal system will be awarded $20,000 grants for projects geared towards criminal justice reform.
“Artists have always been able to tap into something that is unique and vibrant,” Skolnik said in a statement to Mic. “Imagine what artists who have experienced incarceration have to share with the rest of the world.”
The recipients of the grant will also be able to participate in master classes on art history, criminal justice reform and much more.
“Art can provide a visual for people that are blind to [the] system or don’t really know what goes on in it,” Russell Craig, an inaugural recipient of the grant, said in an email. “It also provides a voice for those who went through the experience or some that will never have the opportunity to tell their story.”
When many people are released from the U.S. penal system, they’re often all but written off by the world around them. Discriminatory employment practices, a focus on isolation over rehabilitation and a lack of resources all play a role in this sad reality.
Hopefully, organizations like The Soze Agency will support the ideal that citizens can transition back into the lives they left behind, or even better ones, upon their release.