+
More

Chris Bisbano was serving an 18-year prison sentence when a drama class changed his life.

"We’re not teaching inmates to be actors. We’re giving them the tools of creative expression, and more importantly, emotional awareness."

60 days after Chris Bisbano was released from prison, he found himself back again, this time by choice.

He was there to teach a drama class with The Actors' Gang Prison Project. As he walked in, he noticed the inmates eyeing his tattoos, all of which he got during his 18-year sentence at the California Rehabilitation Center in Norco, California, for attempted murder. He knew he stuck out from the other teachers but didn't realize how much of a difference that would make until he introduced himself to the inmates.

Chris Bisbano (center, arm outstretched) with a group of inmates participating in The Actors' Gang Prison Project at Norco. Photo by Peter Merts. All photos used with permission.


"I told them I was formerly incarcerated and had only been out 60 days," Bisbano says. "The whole room started tearing up. The inmates exclaimed, 'I can’t believe you’re back in prison after doing all that time. And you came back just for us?'"

Bisbano came back because he has firsthand experience with the life-changing potential of The Actors' Gang Prison Project.

Unlike other prison drama programs, the Actors' Gang utilizes a specific type of acting exercise — an improv style known as commedia dell’arte— to help inmates recognize and control their emotions.

Commedia dell'arte is essentially the basis for clowning. Participants develop characters that represent four emotional states: happy, sad, frightened, and angry, and they build scenes around them.

Chris Bisbano. Photo by the Associated Press.

"We’re not teaching inmates to be actors. We’re giving them the tools of creative expression, and more importantly, emotional awareness," explains Bob Turton, one of the project's teachers.

When Bisbano first came to The Actors' Gang workshop as an inmate in 2009, he was skeptical.

He expected it to be like all the other run-of-the-mill art programs that came and went at Norco. But once he started doing the work, his perception changed entirely.

Photo by Bob Turton.

"I thought it was amazing," he recalls, explaining that the commedia style is perfect for the prison environment. "In prison, you don’t normally show emotion. You revert to one emotion: anger. Or you don’t show any emotion at all — that’s a sign of weakness. This program provided a safe space where we could explore all our emotions."

Remarkably, the program also helps to quickly build a sense of community among the inmates that crosses racial boundaries, which can be much more rigid in prison.

The Actors' Gang Prison Project isn't just a cool idea — it's working really well.

According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), the recidivism rate statewide in California is 50%. For inmates who completed The Actors' Gang Prison Project, however, it's 10.6%, according to a preliminary analysis conducted by the CDCR in conjunction with The Actors' Gang.

Even more impressive? Behavioral infractions by students in the Actors' Gang dropped by 90%.

Photo by Peter Merts.

Today, Bisbano is six months out on parole and already a head teacher for the Actors' Gang.

He started teaching weekly commedia classes as an inmate, and now that he's out on parole, he teaches at The Actors' Gang Prison Project as well as the Re-Entry Project, which helps inmates at halfway houses (between prison and full release).

As a teacher, Bisbano says, he's noticed that once the emotional "safe space" is established, the inmates are able to go much deeper emotionally much faster. "It’s like they've been waiting for this moment to open up and share," he says.

Photo by Bob Turton.

It's at the halfway houses that Bisbano and Turton say their work is the most challenging but can also make the biggest difference. The people there are anxious because they're much closer to getting out. A program that helps channel that emotion productively can be incredibly beneficial.

In 2007, there were zero publicly funded art programs in California's state prisons. In 2017, there will be art programs in all 35 of them.

Studies show just how much of a positive influence art can have on inmates' emotional development and behavior. The Actors' Gang's success — not to mention other programs like San Quentin's Prison Art Program, Marin Shakespeare at Solano State Prison, and guitar classes at Salinas Valley State Prison — are proof of that.

Photo by Bob Turton.

For Bisbano, what makes The Actors' Gang Prison Project exceptional is the way it taps into the source of inmates' behavior.

The work inmates do with The Actors' Gang helps them recognize a triggering feeling, learn how to diffuse it, and turn it into something productive. Once they leave prison, those skills give them more control over what they do, both on stage and on the streets.  

"We call it 'riding the horse,'" Bisbano says. "If [the feeling] is good, I ride it out. If it’s bad, I ride it out. But it doesn’t mean I need to act on it."

Internet

Relationship expert tells people to never get married unless you're willing to do 3 things

"If you and your partner (both) are unable or unwilling to do these 3 things consistently forever, you won’t make it."

Relationship expert gives people advice on getting married.

Being in a relationship can be difficult at times. Learning someone else's quirks, boundaries, and deep views on the world can be eye-opening and hard. But usually, the happy chemicals released in our brain when we love someone can cause us to overlook things in order to keep the peace.

Jayson Gaddis, a relationship expert, took to Twitter to rip off people's rose-colored glasses and tell them to forego marriage. Honestly, with the divorce rate in this country being as high as it is, he probably could've stopped his tweet right there. Don't get married, the end. Many people would've probably related and not questioned the bold statement, but thankfully he followed up with three things you must be willing to do before going to the chapel.

Before going into his reasons for why he tells people not to get married, Gaddis explained that he is a person that "LOVEs being married." I mean, it would probably make him a pretty weird relationship expert if he hated relationships, so it's probably a good thing he enjoys being married. Surely his spouse appreciates his stance as well.

Keep ReadingShow less

Tater Tots, fresh out of the oven.

It’s hard to imagine growing up in America without Tater Tots. They are one of the most popular kiddie foods, right up there with chicken nuggets, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and macaroni and cheese. The funny thing is the only reason Tater Tots exist is that their creators needed something to do with leftover food waste.

The Tater Tot is the brainchild of two Mormon brothers, F. Nephi and Golden Grigg, who started a factory on the Oregon-Idaho border that they appropriately named Ore-Ida. The brothers started the factory in 1951 after being convinced that frozen foods were the next big thing.

According to Eater, between 1945 and 1946, Americans bought 800 million pounds of frozen food.

Keep ReadingShow less
Pop Culture

10 years ago, a 'Stairway to Heaven' performance brought Led Zeppelin's surviving members to tears

Heart, John Bonham's son and a full choir came together for the epic tribute.

Led Zeppelin got to see their iconic hit performed for them.

When Billboard and Rolling Stone pull together their "Best Songs of All Time" lists, there are some tunes you know for sure will be included. Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" is most definitely one of them.

It has everything—the beauty of a ballad, the grunginess of a rock song, the simple solo voice, and the band in full force. "Stairway to Heaven" takes us on a musical journey, and even people who aren't necessarily giant Led Zeppelin or classic rock fans can't help but nod or sing along to it.

Of course, it's also been so ubiquitous (or overplayed, as some would claim) to become a meme among musicians. Signs saying "No Stairway to Heaven" in guitar stores point to how sick of the song many guitarists get, and when Oregon radio station KBOO told listeners they would never play the song again if someone pledged $10,000, Led Zepelin singer Robert Plant himself called in and gave the donation.

Keep ReadingShow less
Family

Developmental scientist shared her 'anti-parenting advice' and parents are relieved

In a viral Twitter thread, Dorsa Amir addresses the "extreme pressure put on parents in the West."

Photo by kabita Darlami on Unsplash, @DorsaAmir/Twitter

Parents, maybe give yourselves a break

For every grain of sand on all the world’s beaches, for every star in the known universe…there is a piece well intentioned, but possibly stress-inducing parenting advice.

Whether it’s the astounding amount of hidden dangers that parents might be unwittingly exposing their child to, or the myriad ways they might be missing on maximizing every moment of interaction, the internet is teeming with so much information that it can be impossible for parents to feel like they’re doing enough to protect and nurture their kids.

However, developmental scientist and mom Dorsa Amir has a bit of “anti-parenting advice” that help parents worry a little less about how they’re measuring up.

First and foremost—not everything has to be a learning opportunity. Honestly, this wisdom also applies to adults who feel the need to be consistently productive…raises hand while doing taxes and listening to a podcast on personal development
Keep ReadingShow less

A guy with road rage screaming out of his car.

A psychologist who’s an expert in narcissism has released a telling video that reveals one of the red flags of the disorder, being an erratic driver.

"Most people, when they tell the story backwards of a narcissistic relationship, are able to see the red flags very clearly,” Dr. Ramani said in her video. “However, seeing them forwards isn't hard. But if you see them too late, it means you've already been through the narcissistic relationship, you're devastated and have likely wasted a lot of time."

Dr. Ramani Durvasula is a licensed clinical psychologist in Los Angeles, Professor Emerita of Psychology at California State University and author of several books, including “Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving A Relationship with a Narcissist.”

Keep ReadingShow less
www.youtube.com

Man hailed 'Highway Hero' for running across four lanes of traffic

Holy cow, Bat Man! You're always supposed to be aware of other vehicles when you're driving but what do you do when you notice someone has lost consciousness while speeding down the highway?

It's a scenario that no one wants to see play out, but for Adolfo Molina, the scenario became reality and he didn't hesitate to spring into action. Molina was driving down the highway when he spotted a woman in a blue car who lost consciousness as her car careened down the shoulder of the highway. The concerned driver quickly pulled over in order to attempt to rescue the woman.

But there was a problem, he had to cross four lanes of traffic on the highway just to make it to the woman's still moving car. That obstacle didn't stop him. Molina sprinted across the highway, crossing right in front of a black pick up truck before running at full speed to attempt to open the woman's door and stop her car.

Keep ReadingShow less