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Professors Moller and Dreisinger Bring Therapy Through Theater to Female Inmates in Thailand

Two John Jay professors traveled to Thailand this past summer to lead a workshop at the tough yet progressive Ratchaburi Central Prison, where they used sociodrama to involve the incarcerated women in developing scenarios based on situations and conflicts they may encounter.

“I was deeply moved by the insight, creative talent and appetite for learning expressed by these inmates. They blossomed into a cohesive group, dissipating the shyness, gloom and deprivation that occur in prison,” said Professor Lorraine Moller, a member of the Department of Communication and Theatre Arts. “Therapies such as drama, yoga and narrative therapy give both women and men a voice and a channel in which to express themselves. Research tells us that drama programs, specifically, may teach emotional literacy, empathy and social competence, and assist in institutional adjustment.”

The inmates participated in writing the plays and the musical accompaniment, in addition to performing roles.

“It was unbelievable,” observed Professor Baz Dreisinger of the English department, who is Academic Director of the Prison-to-College Pipeline Program at John Jay. “For Lorraine and myself, this trip exceeded our expectations of not only getting to learn about their criminal justice and prison system and their issues surrounding women, but actually being able to impact it in some small way. The teams we worked with showed themselves to be enormously progressive. We both were stunned, impressed and moved.”
Dreisinger and Moller were invited to present at a “Prison on the Move” conference organized by Senior Researcher Dr. Napaporn Havanon and Program Director Jirapa Sintunava, and presided over by Her Royal Highness Princess Bajrakitiyabha. Attendees included executives and directors from the Thai Ministry of Justice, Department of Corrections and hundreds of inmates.

The princess visited John Jay in May 2009 to broaden her knowledge of criminal justice issues. Moller arranged for the princess to tour the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women, where she visited the Infant and Puppy programs. At the time, the princess’s Kamlangjai Project in Thailand focused on developing programs for the Ratchaburi prison, with the idea of setting a positive standard of care for incarcerated women. The princess’s positive experience at John Jay encouraged her to invite Moller and Dreisinger to lead a workshop at the facility.

“The relationship between re-entry and rehabilitation during incarceration remains of paramount importance if we expect to lower the recidivism rate,” said Moller. “It is my profound belief that the work of rehabilitation occurs from the first day of incarceration.”

Moller said programs in the arts teach skills that are essential not only for intellectual growth and job placement, but for the repair of the social and cognitive damage that result from incarceration.

A team of scholars from the Kamlangjai Project, under the leadership of Dr. Napaporn, will visit John Jay in November.
“Studying another culture is the most profound way to develop multiple perspectives, an essential skill in the global age,” said Moller.

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