Family Day at The 28th Annual Exhibition of Artists in Michigan Prisons

by Shelly Lyons Mac

As I sit in the Duderstadt Gallery on the campus of University of Michigan reflecting on the day I am surrounded by people that are connected to the artists inside Michigan Prisons. I see the joy on their faces and listen to the stories they tell of their loved ones. Their pride is both visible and visceral. Watching them brings up many emotions connected to incarceration, and it takes me back to the exact moment that I was accepted into the PCAP Program in 2009. 

Family Day consisted of tours of the gallery, a speakers panel, a pizza party reception for family members and a literary review of work submitted for publication and read by friends and family members of incarcerated individuals.

After a short tour of the art submitted by the very talented artists, I got to participate in the Artist Panel. The panel consisted of 6 artists, all formerly incarcerated, who have had art shown in the exhibit or who have published work with University of Michigan through the PCAP program. There were standardized questions for every person on the panel to answer. There was a wide range of questions including How did you find inspiration inside of prison? How did participation in the program affect your life? What are you doing now, and does it include art?

After the standard questions there was Q&A with audience members. All the artist on the panel have gone on to show art in galleries throughout Michigan, publish books on their own, continue their educations, and thrive. Most have gone on to become leaders in their communities. Some of the artist on the panel have web pages that can be found on the U-M Linkage Community webpage. Participating in the panel gave me a sense of connecting with the community and feelings of validation, much like participation in the PCAP Program at large.

After our panel discussion there was a pizza party reception for family and friends to commune over food and beverages. Many people got to forge connections during this time and further conversations about why and how they were involved with the exhibit. At this time the artists from the panel got to talk to family members who expressed their hopes for a brighter future for their loved ones and found comfort  in our stories of release and success outside of the prison system.

Following the pizza party the Literary Review took place.

There is nothing more impactful than allowing a loved one to read the joy of the memories of life before incarceration and the struggles that their loved ones are currently going through in prison.

I have never attended one of these reading before and I would recommend attending to anyone who wonders what happens to people in prison and how it affects family and friends in their everyday lives.

Shelly Lyons Mac is a formerly incarcerated artist, author and community activist working hard to fight the dynamics of mass incarceration. 

Article is made possible by the Linkage Community Journalism Initiative.

Photography by

Event made possible in part by Domino's Pizza and Nothing Bundt Cakes in Ann Arbor.


Release Date: 05/07/2024
Tags: Prison Creative Arts Project