NYC Department of Corrections Scrollathons
In 2012 Steven and William’s work with a District 75 School led to a collaboration with the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to bring the Scrollathon to the Robert N. Davoren Complex (RNDC) on Rikers Island. The Department felt their success with the District 75 kids, many of whom had been kicked out of other schools and in danger of institutionalization or incarceration, would translate well to those young incarcerated men in RNDC.
Early success there led to its adoption in other facilities including the George Motchan Detention Center (GMDC) and the Rose M. Singer Center (RMSC). Their first experiences in RNDC with the adolescent male detainees presented unique challenges. The brothers had to modify their program to meet the security demands. Materials had to be smaller than four inches so inmates could not use them as ligatures, pins had to be replaced with rubber bands, and gang colors had to be avoided. They encountered stringent rules about entering the island, complex processes of forging alliances with corrections officers, wardens, and administrators. They had to remain flexible with scheduling to allow for frequent alarms and jail lockdowns, and had to modify their language to avoid dialogues about why inmates were incarcerated.
“Reminds me of the change I’m dedicated to create in my life.”
-From a participant feedback form
There were also emotional challenges, such as watching an inmate who had just received medication transform from active participant into a seated and vegetative state, being spit on by another inmate, and facing the heartbreaking reality of their living conditions all while maintaining the bright, positive and uplifting energy required to create an atmosphere of success and collaboration.
Next they paired their Scrollathons with A Road Not Taken, a program that identifies and centers on inmates with substance abuse concerns, including female and male inmates of racial and ethnic minorities and low socioeconomic status, and those with mental illness. Engagement with young and adult females in RMSC resulted in several works, as the reception was so positive and the women continually asked that Steven and William return. It was here that they received clearance for detainees to keep individual works, giving them a tangible reminder of the experience.
Word spread and the founder of A Road Not Taken requested that they visit GMDC to work with the young adult males. By this time Steven and William had been cleared to distribute feedback forms, allowing them to learn more about the detainee’s feelings on the program and giving them a chance to reflect more on personal stories in relation to the exercise of creating.
2017 was a huge turning point for the program, as the brothers were able to install prints of a collaborative work, with their values, in the two RMSC units that helped create it, as a reinforcement and reminder of the program. 2017 also saw the expansion of the program to a different jail called the Manhattan Detention Complex (MDC). There, they work with Restart Housing, as well as in the Transgender Housing Unit, the only housing for transgender people in the city’s Department of Corrections.
Each visit is approached with positivity, free of prejudices or failure. The brothers interactions usually begin with a lively introduction of themselves, leading directly into a conversation about their values, how they evolved, and how they live by them. Vibrant materials are introduced and dialogue started while participants create one round of small works to keep and title, and another round of simple scrolls for the collaborative larger work of art that will be created over the course of several visits and include thousands of the tightly rolled components.