It was a simple question that launched Katonah resident Katherine Vockins’ crusade into the correctional system: “Does Sing Sing have any type of musical theater?” She posed the query to an inmate in the prison’s master’s program, in which her husband was teaching. From that interaction, Rehabilitation Through The Arts (RTA), a nonprofit that uses the arts to teach life skills and ease prisoners’ transitions into society upon release, sprang to life in 1996. Since, RTA has spread to five prisons across New York State and has affected the lives of nearly 700 prisoners.
Academic studies done on RTA have shown that its participants are “more dependable, more socially mature, and sacrificed individual needs for the welfare of a group more than control participants,” and they are 20 percent more likely to obtain a GED while in prison (in a shorter amount of time than their peers, no less). Out of 70 RTA alumni—parolees and those who’ve served their maximum sentences—only seven have returned to prison. “We don’t try to ‘save them,’” Vockins says of RTA participants. “We give them an experience in which they can grow if they choose.”