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  • Prison Performing Arts


Friends of PPA, 

The dangers of COVID-19 for all of us are clear; over the last month, we have taken careful measures to protect ourselves and our loved ones from the virus. We’ve also kept a close eye on the news, knowing that those who live and work in correctional facilities are at a heightened risk for infection.

Fortunately, the Missouri Department of Corrections facilities that PPA serves have not reported any positive cases for inmates to date, and the youth participant who tested positive at Hogan Street Regional Youth Center is recovering safely and doing well. We are grateful for that. However, outbreaks in other jails and prisons across the nation are keeping us on high alert. Incarcerated youth and adults need a healthy outlet as they navigate the fear and anxiety COVID-19 has generated.

For 20 years, PPA has helped justice-involved youth and adults – and their families – find hope in the darkest circumstances. This season is no different.

Last month, Prison Performing Arts produced A Memory of Two Mondays by Arthur Miller at Northeast Correctional Center. The play features a group of desperate workers earning their livings in a Brooklyn auto parts warehouse during the Great Depression.

In the post-show talk-back, a longtime PPA supporter told the cast that he was a former engineer. He said that the show was so realistic, he could almost smell an actual mechanical workshop. He felt like he was there again. A few incarcerated men were sitting behind him, and one piped up, "Sir, that could be me you smell. We just came from our automotive class." The audience erupted in laughter.  

Our photographer, Alan Shawgo, captured that moment:    

PPA reminds us that we have more in common than meets the eye. Art brings us together.  


That night, the artists changed back into uniforms and embraced their guests, saying emotional goodbyes. They had prepared for the show for months.   One actor, Roger, said, “I literally stopped everything else this past month, no TV, no books or magazines … I just focused on memorizing my lines, all day every day.” This performance was not only the culminating masterpiece, but also a chance to share the very best of themselves with their loved ones and the larger community. The reward was a standing ovation from a packed house (a.k.a. the prison’s Instructional Activities Center), representing acceptance and admiration. What a rush. 


But the moment ended abruptly. The Department of Corrections had just announced that, due to the risks of COVID-19, all visiting hours would cease until further notice. During goodbyes that evening, there was no “See you next week.”   

These shows highlight our common bonds. The stark reality is that differences remain.   

A public health crisis like this reveals the vulnerability of incarcerated youth and adults who are unable to practice safe social distancing or communicate consistently with loved ones.


For the artists PPA works with, recovering from this pandemic – physically and emotionally – will take time. And the outlet PPA provides them will give them a constructive channel to express emotions as they heal from another traumatic experience.  

PPA is one of the few positive things we have in here. For a few hours a week I feel like a person again instead of a number or statistic.” - David, PPA artist  

In addition to artistic skills, they have developed empathy and resilience. They carry this with them now. But, as David noted, our in-person programming is so important to their well-being.   

They need PPA – and they need you.     

How Can You Help? 

Please consider making a donation today. We are a lean organization, and we’re already facing losses in state funding due to COVID-19. In order to be ready with robust, meaningful opportunities for artists when facility doors open again, our operations must continue now.  

Your support helps us remain a force for good in the lives of people committed to a brighter future. It means families will see their incarcerated/detained loved ones thriving as they re-define their own stories through the arts. It means hope.   

Did You Know? The CARES Act includes a measure that allows you to take a $300 above-the-line deduction on your 2020 taxes for cash contributions to a public charity, even if you do not itemize.   

Thank you for standing with us during this season.  

In gratitude, 

Shannon, Chris, Rachel, & Corina  PPA Staff 

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