A good 20 years have passed since Tim Robbins featured in the classic prison movie, The Shawshank Redemption, and much has changed in that time for the actor. Now, nearly two decades on, Robbins finds himself behind bars once again, but not for a sequel of the epic movie; he is there to help inmates in California's prison system.
Robbins co-founded The Actors' Gang back in the early 1980's, as a way of helping prison inmates to rehabilitate, while promoting non-violence in the jail system. The good news is that he has just been given his first state grant which will enable him to expand his efforts in Californian Jails.
So far, The Actors' Gang has been active at the California Institution for Men, California Institution for Women, and California Rehabilitation Center, which Robbins started working with in 2006.
He said to the press that his program: "Allows prisoners to feel a sense of community that diminishes in-prison violence, and enables them to develop emotional and social skills that aid in a positive return to society." A noble cause indeed.
Sabra Williams, director of the company's Prison Project, told reporters:
The reason that the Actors' Gang was started was because Tim and the other actors who created it really believed strongly that the arts had a very, very integral role in society and that actors should be socially responsibleFortunately, Tim Robbins' Actors' Gang aren't short of cash, and they just received $112,000 from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation as part of the $2.5 million they are handing out to theater groups in the state which conduct workshops with prison inmates.
Chairman of the California Arts Council, Wylie Aitken, who administers the program for the department, said he hopes more money will become available for this worthy cause: "We looked for the stability of the organization, the creativity of the people they can recruit, and their experience in making the actual presentations," he said.
According to Aiken the various arts-in-prison programs have led to a significant reduction in violence as well as drug abuse among inmates. He added that :
"We took a good plan with a good success rate, with a very committed artistic director, Tim Robbins, and said, 'Look, you've done such a great job and you've done it with your own fundraising and your own work, now let's take the same exact plan and give you the funds in order to expand it to additional facilities.' "