“Upon hearing of my RTA enrollment, friends from my old gang were like, ‘He joining theater? Is this guy serious?’
Now the same guys making fun of me are asking 'How do I apply for RTA?' I know I’m making this positive transformation look so damn cool.”
RTA MEMBER, SING SING
RTA's mission has evolved since 1996, when Katherine Vockins attended a graduation of the New York Theological Seminary at Sing Sing and casually asked if there was any theatre in the prison. The answer was no, but there was plenty of interest and plenty of talent. One year later, the Theatre Group Katherine formed presented an original piece to the prison population. The play was about their own lives - drugs, gangs, crime and bad decisions - but also about the possibility of change and redemption.
In time, participants, observing changes in their own attitudes and behavior, changed the organization's name to Rehabilitation Through The Arts.
In 2003, Sing Sing closed its medium security section. Prisoners lobbied the Department of Corrections to establish RTA at the facilities where they were transferred and programs were formed at Fishkill, Green Haven and Woodbourne Correctional Facilities.
RTA began working at Bedford Hills, New York State’s only maximum security prison for women, in 2008. The response has been beyond our expectations. From first protesting, “But I can’t draw” or “I’m so bad at this!” to tackling Shakespearean female archetypes, RTA is guiding the women of Bedford Hills in a profound process of self-discovery. In 2020, RTA began operating at Taconic Correctional Facility, a medium-security prison where many Bedford Hills residents are "stepped down" as they near release.
The mission continues to evolve, as RTA alumni seek to carry on the creative journey and maintain the community they found so meaningful inside.