Prison program helping to rehabilitate inmates through the arts

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Last spring, we went to prison for Eyewitness News to bring you a story we called "Shakespeare in Sing Sing."

It was about a group of inmates serving lengthy prison terms for violent crimes who performed on stage for their families.

The group that makes it all possible is celebrating its 20th anniversary with a new documentary, and we were there in Chelsea recently when 'Dramatic Escape' was shown publicly for the first time.

At first glance, it could have been a typical movie premiere, but it wasn't.

The stars of this movie are prisoners and the honored guests? Ex-cons, all part of a program called 'Rehabilitation Through the Arts'.

"Helping people change their lives," said RTA founder Katherine Vockins, who invited us to Sing Sing Prison in May to witness first-hand how lives have been changed by the program.

"It was the first time in my life that I actually felt that I was able to give back without any ulterior motives or undertones," said inmate Tim Walker.

We spent one unforgettable morning behind bars, but the new documentary was years in the making.

"What's interesting about RTA is they're not here to train actors, they're trying to train the men to be better people by improving their inter-personal skills," said director Nick Quested.

Men like Robbie Pollock. "I thought maybe there is a hope that I won't always be a villain," he said.

Seen with him before his release is a guy who freely admits he was especially bad.

"Before I joined RTA, I'd be characterized as wolf: a predatory animal in the prison system: preyed on the weak, anybody I could take advantage of," Clarence Maclin said.

But after playing 'Oedipus' and serving 16 years behind bars, Maclin emerged from this program a different man.

"It gave me a moral compass where there wasn't one," he said.

He is now on the outside and determined to stay straight.

"How did RTA help once you got out?", we asked.

"Well, RTA helped because we create our own support system from brothers who came out before me to the volunteers that come in and help us. We stay in contact, and if I ever need an ear to talk, I got 'em," said Maclin.

For those enrolled in the program, the recidivism rate is a fraction of the state average, meaning less than 5% of RTA participants return to prison within three years of release.

Hard numbers, which back up the group's claim of success.
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