The silhouettes of different women in front of a simple graphic representing a correctional facility. The over laying text reads: "The Art of Involvement - Monologues of the Women in Blue: Many Women, One Voice

The Art of Involvement #4

A Student-made Project Centering Incarceration as Experienced by Women

“I am the voice for the voices that can’t be heard.”

Everyone on the University of Michigan-Dearborn campus knows Penny Kane. 

You’d be hard pressed to find a single person on the University of Michigan-Dearborn campus who doesn’t know Penny Kane. And all those (many) same people would be able to tell you that Penny— chatty and genuine, kind and overbooked Penny Kane— is also formerly incarcerated.

Though her sentence is often considered short compared to most and less immediately “scary” as a financial crime, Penny has always made sure to put her experiences with the MDOC (Michigan Department of Corrections) out in the open, humanizing a population so often deprived of their humanity. 

Penny represents the women of Huron Valley Correctional Facility, who she calls “the ugly step-children of the MDOC” for the mistreatment, dismissal, and silencing they face while incarcerated. Her writing has been monumental in sharing her story, and in her newest project, Penny has used her writing skills to bring forth stories of 25 women in condensed monologues in a new format: film. 

The Monologues premiered at the 25 year anniversary of the Inside Out Prison Exchange in Philadelphia, then showed at DePaul University; I attended the screening that occurred last Thursday. Partially I attended to support Penny, but the other large part of me just wanted to attend something that centered incarcerated women, which is rare. 

The film was produced by Journalism and Media Production studio interns with professional lighting and angles. The end result is perfect in its simplicity as it made the words spoken by the women central. 

5 different readings presented in the Monologues, each read by a different formerly incarcerated woman explores themes of degradation, loss, beauty, sexuality, abuse… in short, what it really means to be a woman in prison. The film succeeds in balancing common experiences of the women interviewed and their personal experiences. 

It was emotionally heavy to hear the experiences of Indigenous women in the prison system from Dakota Shananquet, who likened her deprivation of her Anishinaabe cultural practices while incarcerated to the residential schools her grandmother and mother suffered through. “The criminal justice system can be savage at times,” Dakota says in the film, tearing up at recounting her being forced to miss her own daughter’s funeral and not being able to practice her and her ancestors’ way of life even while grieving. 

Another monologue read by Machelle Pearson described “having all her firsts” taken by prison after being incarcerated at 16. While in prison, she was raped by an officer, gave birth, and lost contact with her child quickly. Coming out of the facility at 51 years old, she was able to meet the man he’d become for the first time. She also drove for the first time. 

Other topics explored in the Monologues included the dealing of period products in prisons (women were never given sufficient pads and thus they became a treasured kind of currency), making and wearing makeup and perfume in prison, meeting their intimate needs in various ways, and the support systems AKA “prison families” women form. Each story was genuine, full of life and humor. Each segment felt powerful and overwhelmingly human. 

Following the film, Penny and two of the women featured in the film, Felicia Cotton and Machelle Pearson were available for questions from the crowd. It’s safe to say that the film brought up many questions and reactions from the viewers and resulted in a heathy, open conversation, including the perspective of an attendee who used to work within the justice system overseeing jails. Machelle spoke about her experience meeting her son and learning how to survive in prison after coming into it with a young, less cynical mind. Felicia was one of the women that really looked out for her, and this lead us into deeper discussion describing the prison family dynamic. All three remain involved in activism on behalf of “the women left behind”, as Machelle put it.

Q+A Portion of Monologues Screening event. Pictured here from left to right: Machelle Pearson, Penny Kane, Felicia Cotton.

Penny continues to work towards this goal, seeking to expand the film and the perspectives offered into a 45 minute documentary film. She plans to finish writing the Monologues of Women in Blue (which name she is considering changing due to some confusing it as an event centering women police officers) this Summer, and finish filming in the Fall.

After seeing the film, I pestered our Campus Video Network President, Sydney Mckinney-Williams, to slot it into the student film screening that occurred earlier today. Although I was unable to attend, I heard it was a great event and the film was received well! Penny is hoping that the next screening will be at Wayne State in the Fall. I feel it is a film that needs to be seen and appreciated by many, many people. I have faith that it will be. 

The Monologues of Women in Blue: Many Women, One Voice is certain to spark empathy and respect for the incarcerated women that speak through it and create a broader community that will share hopes that other women will have to endure less at the hands of the MDOC. 

“When you look at us, don’t feel sympathy; feel empathy. Look at our success.”

– Machelle Pearson

A Day In Our Lives #16

Hey Guys,
This week I wanted to talk about a bit of what I do on campus to pass my free time. I usually watch a lot of tv shows and cartoons while I crochet and make my artwork for school.  My favorite movie of all time is the Labyrinth starring David Bowie. these little creatures I have drawn are from that film. I think they’re super creepy and fun. I have a lot of fun drawing them. I usually don’t use a variety of bright colors but I really wanted to make them have dimension and look cool. I think that this decision really makes them pop. I usually spend a lot of time also hanging out with my friends and socializing here on campus. I am super excited for my upcoming show this week at the Stamps art Gallery. I have a sculpture going to the show, I hope you all check it out!
See you next week,

Round green shapes of varying sizes glow against the black background. The text reads, "Immersive."

Immersive #9: Loving Vincent

Oftentimes, adaptations of pre-existing work are translated into new mediums in order to expand upon the impact and outreach that the original work holds. However, given that every medium has its own advantages and disadvantages, these adaptations run the risk of losing the insightful themes and emotional responses that the original creator sought to invoke within their work. Nevertheless, when adaptations do manage to stay true to the original message, the end result can truly add onto the original contributions of the creator’s work in a meaningful manner.

One such adaptation that takes this approach of having a deep rooted understanding of the original work while transforming it into something revolutionary is through the 2017 feature film Loving Vincent directed by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman: from its conceptualization to implementation, Loving Vincent sought to put a new spin onto the life of Vincent van Gogh and the circumstances surrounding his death by having its animation consist entirely of hand-drawn paintings, becoming the world’s first ever fully painted film.

In having every frame of the film be painted in the style of Vincent van Gogh, Kobiela sought to build upon the words van Gogh stated in his last letter: “We cannot speak other than by our paintings.” And since such an ambitious feat had never been pulled off before, the creators had to spend 4 years developing the technique that would allow them to accurately capture the fluidity of film within frame by frame oil paintings. But after they managed to hone their technique, it took the team of over 125 painters another 2 years to finish the film, which consisted of over 65,000 frames painted over 1,000 canvases. The end result would be a nostalgic yet vivid world that truly allowed for its viewers to experience what it would be like to live within the contemplative and nuanced world of van Gogh.

Adeline Ravoux Folding Napkins

Overall, Loving Vincent embodies its name within all aspects of its production, retaining the expressive style and intentions of van Gogh while inspiring new life into his works through animation: it is truly a product of love for what van Gogh stood for and what he means for other creatives and admirers who gaze upon his work for inspiration. The film also serves as an indicator on how traditional mediums can be transformed into something new and innovative that adds onto the original work without subtracting from it. It is also a reminder that love for a project can go a long way in ensuring that all elements of the production work with intention and in harmony with one another, which is a mindset that I hope we are all able to embody within our own personal pursuits and creative endeavors.

Witness Loving Vincent: HERE

A New Type of Rom-Com: The Half of It

Like many other queer young adults, I was exalted upon learning of last spring’s Netflix film, The Half of It. The titular phrase, “the half of it” is derived from the Platonic myth of soulmates that proposes that each person is half of a whole soul, and the two halves search through life for their counterpart. Director Alice Wu (known for Saving Face) presents a refreshing take on the teen rom-com–this time, with a queer Asian female lead. Perhaps this is old news to some, but I couldn’t resist writing about this film. It’s the type of movie with substantial representation I wish existed when I was a teen.

The plot follows Ellie Chu, a bookish teen living with her widowed father in a small town in Washington. Ellie, a gifted writer who takes on her peer’s coursework for payment, starts writing romantic letters to a girl named Aster, posing as the goofy jock Paul. As Ellie and Paul’s friendship blossoms, so does Ellie’s romantic feelings for Aster.the loyal and playful Paul develops a strong bond with Ellie, an unexpected but delightful pairing who support each other in an honest way. Meanwhile, Ellie’s snail mail and text correspondences with Aster show Ellie’s witty, romantic nature–drawing upon book and film references and deep thoughts. I won’t spoil the ending in case you haven’t watched it yet, but I will say that the writing, although rushed at the end, isn’t demeaning or tokenizing, but portrays its characters in a realistic and nuanced way.

I admire this film not only for its complex writing and characters, but for its representation as well. As a queer woman of color, I was so excited to see representation that I could somewhat relate to. Viewers see scenes of Ellie and her immigrant father enjoying dinner together and watching classic movies, a part of the story that is surprisingly touching. Furthermore, Wu handles themes of race, sexuality, and religion in a thoughtful but not overbearing way.

The Half of It’s cinematography is beautiful as well, with tranquil shots of small-town life and semi-nostalgic high school drama. It’s warm and feel-good. Overall, it’s a brief but pleasant look at young adulthood, full of awkwardness and tension but also true friendship. Wu argues that romantic love isn’t everything in life, but perhaps only the half of it.

Round green shapes of varying sizes glow against the black background. The text reads, "Immersive."

Immersive #1: Life In A Day 2020

In a world that’s constantly responding to unexpected events that seek to sow division and reap unrest, the challenge of creating unity and a shared understanding among nations, communities, and families grows exponentially by the day. Nevertheless, in light of all these differences, there is the fundamental experience of life that is shared amongst all of us, generating empathy and compassion to the struggles that each and every one of us faces in hopes of a brighter tomorrow: the beautiful nature of humanity.

However, it is all too often that these nuanced and lived experiences of our day-to-day lives get ignored for larger and louder occurrences in the media and on the internet. Wanting to draw attention back to the intricacies of our daily lives and create unity within an isolated world, filmmaker Kevin Macdonald partnered with Ridley Scott to create Life in a Day 2020, a crowd-sourced documentary that sought to capture the human experience on a global scale.

A sequel to Life in a Day 2010, Life in a Day 2020 was carefully cultivated from over 324,000 video submissions from 192 countries that were all filmed on a single day: July 25th, 2020. The end result was a moving film that brought together our fears, hopes, concerns, and aspirations for the past, present, and future.

In the film, we are first exposed to the night. The chirping of crickets intermixed with the humming of an ensemble creates an intimate tone that is soon expanded upon after the waxing of the moon. A woman gives birth and then another one after that. Together, we welcome the new lives that have been introduced into the world, and we welcome a new day. The narrative soon picks up in pace, tying together short clips of urban and rural life from all across the globe. We gain a sense of cohesiveness from the rawness of the lives that are shown to us. Nothing here is foreign or strange, only human.

“This is my way of projecting my inner self into the world. Most people get stuck with what they see in the mirror every day, but there’s so much more to the universe. We just have to be willing to go beyond what we know,” the narrator remarks as a drone slowly flies away from its operator to capture an entire mountain. And to this point, I must agree. We must learn to embrace exploration and new knowledge in order to recognize the authenticity of all of our experiences.

Given the abundance of rich insights into daily life that were featured within the film, I can only wonder what other stories were left out to be able to cultivate the compelling narrative that is Life in a Day 2020; who weren’t we able to hear from because of the limited capacity of the production team? Because of the technology barrier? Because of the scope of the project? Even with all of these lingering questions at the end of the film, I still believe that Life in a Day 2020 was successful in its endeavor to create an intimate understanding of what it was like to live all across the globe on that single day in the summer of 2020.

Watch Life in a Day 2020: HERE

Study Hal: Week 10 – Movie Night

Grab a tasty snack and a refreshing beverage, we’re having a movie night!

Last week, Hal was really stressed out, so he spent some time finding a low-stakes hobby to keep him grounded. After some research, he discovered that plenty of classic horror movies are in the public domain and available for free online! So now, once a week, he sits down with his tea and popcorn to watch one. More often than not, though, Hal comes to movie nights so tired that he falls asleep halfway through the dang movie! I guess it’s good that he’s getting some rest…

Hal’s favorite movies are ones with the campy special effects, but he’s been more open to other psychological horror flicks, too. Can you figure out what movie he’s watching here?

In case you haven’t heard, Hal’s a U-M student back in his hometown for the summer of 2020. He shares his experiences of this weird time every week, so check out the Study Hal tag if you want to see more!