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Is William Martinez Not Our Brother?

Twenty Years of the Prison Creative Arts Project

Buzz Alexander

Publication Year: 2010

Prisons are an invisible, but dominant, part of American society: the United States incarcerates more people than any other nation in the world, with 25 percent of the world's prisoners currently held within its borders. In Michigan, the number of prisoners rose from 3,000 in 1970 to more than 50,000 by 2008, a shift that Buzz Alexander witnessed firsthand when he came to teach at the University of Michigan. Is William Martinez Not Our Brother? describes the University of Michigan's Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP), a pioneering program founded in 1990 that works with incarcerated youth and adults in Michigan juvenile facilities and prisons. Alexander recounts the genesis and evolution of this radically pragmatic and original system that begins with university courses for credit, then offers students a university-based nonprofit organization through which they may continue and deepen their practice, and finally gives them a national network as well as connections with the national movement resisting mass incarceration in this country, and with social careers in general. By giving incarcerated individuals an opportunity to participate in the arts, PCAP enables them to withstand and often overcome the conditions and culture of prison, the policies of an incarcerating state, and the consequences of mass incarceration. The book is also a deeply personal account of Alexander's long commitment to confronting the continually rising numbers of prisoners in America, his dedication as an educator, and his attempts to provide a way to reach out on a practical and emotional level to inmates. The model he describes applies to both public scholarship and everyday politics and will inspire readers in all fields. Buzz Alexander is Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of English Language and Literature, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, at the University of Michigan and was Carnegie National Professor of the Year in 2005.

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Series: The New Public Scholarship


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. viii-xii


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pp. 1-18

I met Janie at the Blue Mountain Center in Blue Mountain Lake, New York, in the summer of 1992. She had grown up in Concord, Massachusetts, was a New York artist, and had recently worked as an artist in communities in South Africa. So much of what has happened in the Prison Creative Arts Project and in my life is a result of our meeting. During my 1993 sabbatical, ...

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1. The Beginning

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pp. 19-36

PCAP began when I was a curly-haired blond boy of five with an odd name who was bullied on Chestnut Street, when I realized the bullying was unmerited since in my home I was loved and affirmed, when in response to the bullying I instinctively developed strategies—reading, modeling myself after my strong father, figuring out how to become popular—and when a ...

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2. Is William Martinez Not Our Brother?

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pp. 37-56

At the end of our English 310 Saturday retreat, students scramble to become teams and choose sites. In September 2005 Sarah Carswell, Jeff Cravens, and Mike found each other and selected a poetry workshop at the Calumet Center in Highland Park, a new site. A few days later they learned that Calumet, unlike the other juvenile facilities, tests volunteers for drugs. Not...

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3. The University Courses

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pp. 57-76

At the end of a long quiet corridor is 3275 Angell Hall. When the Department of English moved from Haven Hall years ago and the lottery brought me second pick among senior faculty, I chose this office for its windows, distance from the department office, and small open space outside where we could crunch down for small group meetings. Around Thanksgiving ...

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4. The Workshops

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pp. 77-102

Children and youth, incarcerated youth, and prisoners, working with English 310 and 319 students, with Art and Design 310 students, and with PCAP members, have presented their plays, poetry, art, and other work in primary schools, in rural high schools, in urban day and night high schools, in girls’ ...

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5. A Matter of Language

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pp. 103-123

On April 5, 2006, I received an e-mail message from Maureen McGraw, Library director and our liaison at the Thumb Correctional Facility: It is imperative that you meet with Connie Carriveau (Manager of Programs and Education), Deputy Will Riley and myself before the next theatre/creative writing class session. ...

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6. “This Is Our Bridge . . . and We Built It Ourselves!” The Annual Exhibition of Art by Michigan Prisoners

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pp. 124-148

In January and February 2007 we travel as we have for the past eleven years, selecting art for the Twelfth Annual Exhibition of Art by Michigan Prisoners.1 Traveling, we move between two problematically parallel universes, prisons and what prisoners call “the world,” that is, between prisons and the towns depending upon them economically, or between prisons and a largely ...

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7. Is the Scapegoat Not Our Brother?

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pp. 149-176

It was spring 2002 and our first role-play in the early days of our rehearsals for When Can We Talk?, a collaborative creation by former prisoners and PCAP members under the direction of Gillian Eaton. We stood in a circle in the Frieze Building on the University of Michigan campus, in an acting studio inside the old Carnegie Library, and Gillian told us, “I’ve got bad news. ...

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8. The Prison Creative Arts Project: Crafted Out of Newspaper, Modge Podge, Paint, and Glitter

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pp. 177-185

PCAP’s early days were freewheeling. No administrator, no executive committee, no national advisory board, very little attention from the Michigan Department of Corrections. A handful of us doing the work, usually fifteen of us in the living room of Sara Falls and Matt Schmitt’s little house for a couple hours every week, committed, knowing what we were doing ...

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9. Failure

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pp. 186-201

Ashley Lucas came to the 2008 Annual Exhibition of Art by Michigan Prisoners to perform Doin’ Time: Through the Visiting Glass, her one-person piece about the family members of prisoners. On April 1 she visited English 319. We began with a talk circle, the students introducing themselves, saying what site they worked at, and sharing something on their mind about the ...

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10. The PCAP Associates: Places Like Rwanda

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pp. 202-226

When in my doddering years my mind roves and dreams without control, the Ginsberg Center living room will be a frequent site of odd, intense events. Haunting figures will spin through the heavy wooden sliding doors that lead to the reception area and hallway, pirouette around the room, wave their claws, sink into the comfortable chairs and couch, or sit rigid ...


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pp. 227-238


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pp. 239-272


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pp. 273-280


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pp. 281-296


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E-ISBN-13: 9780472027446
E-ISBN-10: 0472027441
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472051090
Print-ISBN-10: 0472051091

Page Count: 400
Illustrations: 26 illustrations
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: The New Public Scholarship
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OCLC Number: 687690065
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Is William Martinez Not Our Brother?

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Prison Creative Arts Project -- History.
  • Arts in prisons -- Michigan.
  • Prisoners -- Education -- Michigan.
  • Prisoners as artists -- Michigan.
  • Community arts projects -- Michigan.
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