Tim Robbins and the Actors’ Gang Help Inmates Deal With Their Emotions

Tim Robbins Acting Gang Helps Prisoners
Peter Merts

Led by Tim Robbins, the Actors’ Gang, through its Prison Project, has been working with inmates in the California inmate system since 2006, teaching acting workshops. At least three times a year, the theater company brings classes directly into prisons, working to foster tolerance, nonviolent expression and, ultimately, to reduce recidivism rates.

After being approached by Sabra Williams, now the director of the Prison Project, about beginning an arts rehabilitation program, Robbins said he immediately realized the idea had the potential to change lives.

“My first thought was that it was exactly the kind of work we should be doing,” Robbins said. “I’ve worked for years with many different causes … but to actually be on the ground and doing the work is really fulfilling.”

Through classes that combine open discussion, theater education and performance, the project brings together inmates from different races — and different gangs — in a setting where it’s safe to explore and express emotions otherwise discouraged in prison. “It creates a bond that is quite profound and lasting. And it cuts deeper than previous lines that have been drawn.”

Recently, the Prison Project was awarded state funding by the California Arts Council, a first for the program. Since the project has been run through volunteer work, the new funding will allow the Actors Gang to expand the program.

Robbins credited members of the Actors’ Gang for helping the program to succeed. “We have a group of talented actors who are committed not only to their craft, but to their community.”

Robbins said the group began to take action after noting cuts made to arts in education and cuts in rehabilitation funding. Now, with state funding, it’s looking to expand the project.

“Our hope is that within five years we’ll be able to train different groups throughout the state in this method,” he said, “and hopefully empower other organizations, too, to go in and do this work.”

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  1. Louri Cobb says:

    I have a son in John H Lilley in Boley ,Ok. He got 3 years. 20 years probation. I had him evaluated at 30 years old unvolentarily after treating suicide. His girlfriend of 11 years whom he has an 8 year old son with kicked him out after he wouldn’t give up drugs and started physically abusing her. He was a great kid! Smart! He was diagnosed with scitsofrenia and put in prison. Never getting the help he needed. I know others have their stories but I am a mother who loves her son like so many others! I wish he could get involved in something like this. There are so many inmates the jobs are full up and it’s hard for the inmates to stay busy. This is something great! I’m so impressed!

  2. This is awesome, just saw the segment on KLCS. My mom went to federal prison when I was 17.

    • As a recovering drug addict, I can say that I’ve been in jail, but no prison…our prisons are so overfilled-with nothing to learn but how to do more crime…this program is great for everyone..I’d like to know who some of the other actors are…

  3. 4dakids says:

    Love it! Thank U for sharing!

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