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ReEntry Lab offers incarcerated a path back to life through art

A man in jeans and a white t-shirt and baseball cap sits on a stool and reads into a microphone. A full and masked audience listens to him.
C. Fausto Cabrera (he/him), a multi-genre writer and artist incarcerated from 2003–24, and a 2024 Writing Freedom Fellow, reads in front of an audience at the April Better Things 5x5 reading. (Photo courtesy of Davi Gray)

The ReEntry Lab is bridging the gap between the formerly incarcerated and the arts. 

Tonight the non-profit is hosting its quarterly 5x5 Reading For Social Change event, which offers a selection of live readings from 5 writers' work, for five minutes each. The event takes place at Moon Palace Books in Minneapolis at 7pm. Artists Zeke Caliguiri, Josina Manu Maltzman, Kevin Reese, Michael Torres, and A. E. Wynter will be taking the stage; an open mic reading will take place afterward. 

Co-founder Davi Gray says while the ReEntry Lab often focuses on fostering opportunity by connecting arts and other community-focused organizations with artists impacted by the criminal legal system, this specific event is about bridging the connection between writers and other artists leaving incarceration as a means of community restoration.

“Writers and artists coming out of incarceration - often with significant levels of skill and enthusiasm and energy - struggle to find ways to connect to the arts community,” said Gray. “To the community in general, but specifically the arts community.” 

Gray says a lot of the ReEntry Lab’s participants come from the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop, which offers literary classes and workshops to folks while incarcerated. 

A group of women sit around a table, wearing masks. In the background is a plywood sign that reads "abolish the police."
Davi Gray (far right), Erin Sharkey (white shirt) and other community members gather to learn more, provide resources and connect with formerly incarcerated writers. (Photo courtesy Davi Gray)

Gray says that because of the disproportionate rates of incarceration faced by BIPOC, LGBTQ+, poor, and disabled communities, these already underrepresented voices are silenced further. She says that makes the transition back into society even more difficult.

“When those voices are excluded because they're incarcerated, they're also excluded from telling all those other stories,” said Gray. “And so when we reach out and talk to them, they're excited to find something that they can do to make these connections and help rebuild community.”

Gray says while opportunities create access, what participants really look for is a sustained sense of belonging. She says by providing a platform for these artists to be re-engaged in community in a positive manner, the cultural stigma shifts.

“I think that people find it easy to ‘other’ the person that they don't know. And so, if you don't hear from anyone who is or has been incarcerated, it's easy to make assumptions and make up stories in your head about who they are and what they're about and who they're not,” says Gray. “When you have access to those stories – when you can hear those stories – and when you can encounter those people in life, you start to understand the connection and that we're all human.”

Gray says upcoming events include a podcast club around incarceration and reentry topics. She says the ReEntry Lab is always looking for formerly incarcerated artists to join. More information is available at the website. 

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