Ronald Radford

Prison Art Program Could Yield Big Rewards For Inmates

Excerpts from an interview with the artist by Jonathan Nicholson

Flamenco guitarist Ronald Radford recalls a performance he gave several years ago. The crowd was very responsive as he played, making everything more enjoyable for the artist. As he wrapped up. "the emotional level of receptivity was so great that no one applauded for about a minute," he said, recalling the silence.

"Whatever you've experienced here of real value is what you brought in here with you," he told the captive audience. "The artist is only a mirror to show what you have in yourself." Afterwards, one of the audience members came up to him and told him that his performance was the best thing that had happened to him in about seven years. Radford said the man looked like a wreck, with his clothes and hair disheveled. "Three years later, playing at a similar venue, the man approached Radford again after a show. But this time, the man looked clean and even introduced Radford to his girlfriend. Also, he said he would be leaving prison in about six weeks, he told Radford.

The audiences at the performances were truly captive, and the venues were state correctional facilities. And Radford is part of a prison arts program aimed at showing state inmates a side of themselves they may not have known before.

"Ninety-four percent of people who go to prison get out," said Barbara Farrer, executive director of Institutional Programs Inc., a non- profit group that runs arts programs for about 3,000 of the state's 12,600 inmates. "Everybody eventually is going to come out. If locking them up and treating them really badly would bring out better people. I'd be the first one for it. But it doesn't."

The programs include different types of arts, from painting to stained glass to Instrumental music to professional writing. IPI also sponsors artists such as Radford, who give performances and seminars.

"The people in prison are people. Period," said Radford, adding that the arts help you to realize "the common humanity you share with those people."

Oklahoma Gazette, Oklahoma City, OK By Jonathan Nicholson.