The Berkshire Eagle
Mar 1, 2023
By Amanda Burke
PITTSFIELD, MA — Residents who are or have been incarcerated are invited to get involved in an arts initiative that will bring their stories to the public.
The initiative is the result of 2nd Street Second Chances’ first foray into cultural programming, and it aims to foster artistic expression by those who have been through the system — and understanding by those who haven’t.
“It gives people a platform to tell their stories,” said Mark Gold, president of the organization. “And if they tell their stories, it not only empowers them, but it also informs the public.”
A nonprofit that works in partnership with the Berkshire County Sheriff’s Office, 2nd Street Second Chances provides resources to help formerly incarcerated people succeed in the outside world. It is based at the former county jail on Second Street in Pittsfield.
Any Berkshire County resident who is currently, or has been, incarcerated is encouraged to take part in the cultural projects, developing creative works that may be displayed, published and performed in the fall.
Gold hopes the art will help translate the makers’ personal experiences, ultimately personalizing the artists and reducing stigma and stereotyping.
The artists will transmit their tales through a number of mediums — written, performance and visual art.
The visual art will be displayed at an exhibition called “Insight Out,” which will be featured in the Berkshire Museum from Sept. 2 through Oct. 1.
Paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, sculpture videos and other mixed media will be considered for the exhibit, and artists of all different skill levels are invited to submit pieces for consideration before July 1.
Phyllis Kornfeld, who has taught art in carceral settings for decades, will be holding drawing workshops at the old Second Street jail on Tuesdays from 4:30 to 6 p.m. April 4 through May 23.
“Each artist will bring their own individual story and journey — expressed through their creations and the transformative power of art — which we hope will lead to conversations about society and the criminal justice system and be an inspiration to others,” Berkshire Museum Executive Director Kimberley Bush Tomio said in a statement.
For some, personal expression is rooted in performance. That’s where Jenny Herzog and the initiative Hear Me Out comes in.
Through it, Herzog will help performers conceive and develop a full-length show that pulls in elements of storytelling, music and movement.
The result will be a full-length live production that will be staged during public performances at Berkshire Community College on Sept. 19, and then on Barrington Stage Company’s St. Germain Stage on Sept. 21 and 23.
The cast’s skills and experience will be used to show how a host of different factors combine to produce the outcome of incarceration, Herzog said.
Not only will the show feature those who have have served time in jail, it will also feature the voices of those who are currently incarcerated at the Berkshire Jail and House of Correction, whose stories Herzog said she’ll be recording and weaving into the production.
Herzog told The Eagle that she hopes the show will catalyze a countywide conversation about the role of incarceration and violence prevention in the Berkshires.
“As a community, we have a lot to learn from the voices and stories of those who have experienced incarceration,” she said in the statement. “They are the true experts.”
Anybody who has experience with incarceration and wants to get involved in any capacity should contact Herzog at email@example.com.
The final element of the arts initiative will be a published volume of poetry, short fiction and essays. The literary magazine, Using Our Outside Voices, will have an initial printed run of 400 copies and an online version.
The authors also will have a chance to read their work at different venues in the county. To hone their skills, they’ll have access to BCC’s Writing Center, as well as poetry and creative writing workshops in April and May at the former jail, 264 Second St.
“We are so excited to help bring these stories into the world,” said Matthew Müller, an interim dean at BCC, which is collaborating on the initiative.
For more information about how to submit works and get involved in any of the three projects, visit the 2nd Street Second Chances website and click the tab “Special Projects.” Stipends and awards of $200 to $300 are available if selected.