The prison holds approximately 3, 000 male inmates. The arts program there is unique among California prisons, and is partly left over from a state program, which lost funding in 2010, called Arts-in-Corrections. What is left of the program is kept running by inmates, with the help of an inspiring member of prison staff, Jim Carlson. Carlson used to be the artist facilitator in the days of Arts-in-Corrections but became a recreational therapist when the program lost funding. On top of his duties for the prison he also raised support in the community to keep the prison stocked with art supplies and musical instruments. Carlson retired last year after almost three decades in prisons and prison administration. Funding for Arts-in-Corrections has been restored this year so, with any luck, the arts program at New Folsom will continue without Carlson.
There were studies conducted that show the effectiveness of the arts program in lowering recidivism rates. It also lowers the incidence of violence within the prison. In fact, New Folsom’s general population (or C yard), is known as a “soft” yard among those incarcerated there and elsewhere. It has a reputation for having less gang activity than other maximum and medium security prisons.
Illustration by Wendy MacNaughton