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."

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

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."

Courtesy of Tiffany Obi
True

With the COVID-19 pandemic upending her community, Brooklyn-based singer Tiffany Obi turned to healing those who had lost loved ones the way she knew best — through music.

Obi quickly ran into one glaring issue as she began performing solo at memorials. Many of the venues where she performed didn't have the proper equipment for her to play a recorded song to accompany her singing. Often called on to perform the day before a service, Obi couldn't find any pianists to play with her on such short notice.

As she looked at the empty piano at a recent performance, Obi's had a revelation.

"Music just makes everything better," Obi said. "If there was an app to bring musicians together on short notice, we could bring so much joy to the people at those memorials."

Using the coding skills she gained at Pursuit — a rigorous, four-year intensive program that trains adults from underserved backgrounds and no prior experience in programming — Obi turned this market gap into the very first app she created.

She worked alongside four other Pursuit Fellows to build In Tune, an app that connects musicians in close proximity to foster opportunities for collaboration.

When she learned about and applied to Pursuit, Obi was eager to be a part of Pursuit's vision to empower their Fellows to build successful careers in tech. Pursuit's Fellows are representative of the community they want to build: 50% women, 70% Black or Latinx, 40% immigrant, 60% non-Bachelor's degree holders, and more than 50% are public assistance recipients.

Keep Reading Show less

Yesterday I was perusing comments on an Upworthy article about Joe Biden comforting the son of a Parkland shooting victim and immediately had flashbacks to the lead-up of the 2016 election. In describing former vice President Biden, some commenters were using the words "criminal," "corrupt," and "pedophile—exactly the same words people used to describe Hillary Clinton in 2016.

I remember being baffled that so many people were so convinced of Clinton's evil schemes that they genuinely saw the documented serial liar and cheat that she was running against as the lesser of two evils. I mean, sure, if you believe that a career politician had spent years being paid off by powerful people and was trafficking children to suck their blood in her free time, just about anything looks like a better alternative.

But none of that was true.

It's been four years and Hillary Clinton has been found guilty of exactly none of the criminal activity she was being accused of. Trump spent every campaign rally leading chants of "Lock her up!" under the guise that she was going to go to jail after the election. He's been president for nearly four years now, and where is Clinton? Not in jail—she's comfy at home, occasionally trolling Trump on Twitter and doing podcasts.

Keep Reading Show less
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
True

Glenda moved to Houston from Ohio just before the pandemic hit. She didn't know that COVID-19-related delays would make it difficult to get her Texas driver's license and apply for unemployment benefits. She quickly found herself in an impossible situation — stranded in a strange place without money for food, gas, or a job to provide what she needed.

Alone, hungry, and scared, Glenda dialed 2-1-1 for help. The person on the other end of the line directed her to the Houston-based nonprofit Bread of Life, founded by St. John's United Methodist pastors Rudy and Juanita Rasmus.

For nearly 30 years, Bread of Life has been at the forefront of HIV/AIDS prevention, eliminating food insecurity, providing permanent housing to formerly homeless individuals and disaster relief.

Glenda sat in her car for 20 minutes outside of the building, trying to muster up the courage to get out and ask for help. She'd never been in this situation before, and she was terrified.

When she finally got out, she encountered Eva Thibaudeau, who happened to be walking down the street at the exact same time. Thibaudeau is the CEO of Temenos CDC, a nonprofit multi-unit housing development also founded by the Rasmuses, with a mission to serve Midtown Houston's homeless population.

Keep Reading Show less

Eight months into the pandemic, you'd think people would have the basics figured out. Sure, there was some confusion in the beginning as to whether or not masks were going to help, but that was months ago (which might as well be years in pandemic time). Plenty of studies have shown that face masks are an effective way to limit the spread of the virus and public health officials say universal masking is one of the keys to being able to safely resume some normal activities.

Normal activities include things like getting a coffee at Starbucks, but a viral video of a barista's encounter with an anti-masker shows why the U.S. will likely be living in the worst of both worlds—massive spread and economic woe—for the foreseeable future.

Alex Beckom works at a Starbucks in Santee, California and shared a video taken after a woman pulled down her "Trump 2020" mask to ask the 19-year-old barista a question, pulled it back up when the barista asked her to, then pulled it down again.

Keep Reading Show less
True

*Upworthy may earn a portion of sales revenue from purchases made through links on our site.

With the election quickly approaching, the importance of voting and sending in your ballot on time is essential. But there is another way you can vote everyday - by being intentional with each dollar you spend. Support companies and products that uphold your values and help create a more sustainable world. An easy move is swapping out everyday items that are often thrown away after one use or improperly disposed of.

Package Free Shop has created products to help fight climate change one cotton swab at a time! Founded by Lauren Singer, otherwise known as, "the girl with the jar" (she initially went viral for fitting 8 years of all of the waste she's created in one mason jar). Package Free is an ecosystem of brands on a mission to make the world less trashy.

Here are eight of our favorite everyday swaps:

1. Friendsheep Dryer Balls - Replace traditional dryer sheets with these dryer balls that are made without chemicals and conserve energy. Not only do these also reduce dry time by 20% but they're so cute and come in an assortment of patterns!

Package Free Shop

2. Last Swab - Replacement for single use plastic cotton swabs. Nearly 25.5 billion single use swabs are produced and discarded every year in the U.S., but not this one. It lasts up to 1,000 uses as it's able to be cleaned with soap and water. It also comes in a biodegradable, corn based case so you can use it on the go!

Keep Reading Show less