As an undergraduate, Krista Brune majored in Spanish and Portuguese and was actively involved in the prison reform group of the Princeton Justice Project. In the words of the faculty and legal advisor to the Princeton Justice Project,
"Krista is a dynamo of physical energy and enthusiasm, plus unending intellectual curiosity, and a deepening commitment to social justice. Best of all, she is so totally
organized a person that she puts the rest of us to shame; she keeps a schedule of meetings and activities that suggests there are at least 2 of her out there at all times, plus a full time secretary." He went on to say, "In short, you cannot find a better person than Krista: calm, diplomatic, kind to a fault, considerate of others' feelings, and always aware that she has a mission or many goals for making this a better
world." Another faculty member told us that "Krista is, above all else, a supremely
intelligent and intellectually curious person, who is passionate about her involvement in prison reform . . . a stunning example of what Princeton students are at their best . . . "
Her passion for the arts, education, and justice provided the inspiration for her ReachOut ’56 project researching and documenting arts programming in correctional institutions throughout the U.S. During her fellowship year, she created a website and book about these organizations to serve as a resource for those active in, or interested in entering, this field. Her project was sponsored by Voices UnBroken, a Bronx-based nonprofit that provides inmates and other underserved populations with the resources for creative expression. According to the founder and Executive Director of Voices UnBroken, Victoria Sammartino, a central source of information on existing programs in prisons was essential, yet no one working in the field had the time to devote a year to the project. So when Krista approached the Executive Director about creating such a resource, she was warmly received – "just the person Voices UnBroken and the fields of prison arts and education have been waiting for."
Class of 2006
Krista began her project by attending an arts-in-corrections conference at the University of Illinois in April 2006, where she established contacts with key people in the field. She spent the summer and fall doing bibliographic research, site visits to existing programs, collecting materials from these programs, and interviewing directors, volunteers, and inmates. The physical materials collected during this fieldwork form an archive in the Voices UnBroken resource library. During these months, she visited programs in California, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Missouri, Colorado, Illinois, and Washington, and interviewed artists, program directors and professors in Arizona, Kansas, Iowa, Florida, Georgia, Texas, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Kentucky. She engaged in conversations with prisoners at New Folsom and San Quentin prisons in Northern California, attended a performance at a women’s facility near Seattle, saw “Henry VI” performed by inmates at Sing Sing, and watched juveniles in New Jersey discover the power of acting.
Krista first synthesized these experiences and observations in the article, “Creating Behind the Razor Wire: An Overview of Arts in Corrections in the U.S.” Published halfway through the fellowship year, this article served as a progress report on the project and also a concise summary of the field of arts in corrections. This research became more fully elaborated on the www.prisonarts.info website. While the website is no longer active, all of the information (and more) is available in a book format to either purchase or download for free . These resources establish a history and cultural memory of prison arts programs and also analyze the essential elements of successful programs.
For artists, program directors, and professors, this book was a much needed and warmly received resource. Upon receiving the book, Leslie Neal, the director of ArtSpring Inc., wrote, “"Thank you! It is fabulous. How can I get more? We are developing an Arts in Corrections certificate program with University of Florida to train artists on working in corrections. I would love to make this a text for the program. It will be offered next June in collaboration with the UF Center for Arts in Healthcare - we are partnering with them in their Summer Intensive training for artists. Let me know how your book could be ordered, and thanks again for this wonderful contribution to the field."
Judith Tannenbaum, the author of Disguised as a Poem: My Years Teaching Poetry at San Quentin and By Heart: Poetry, Prison and Two Lives, describes the book: “Krista Brune’s Creating Behind the Razor Wire is a hugely important resource. I met Krista soon after she began her research on prison arts programs nationally, and from that early moment to the book and website she created, I was constantly in awe of Krista’s intelligence, skill, persistence, and thoroughness. Krista accomplished what so many of us in the field had never been able to accomplish: a resource guide to much of the work being done, one that included not only factual information about people and programs, but also explored some of the history and deep questions of this unusual work.” Academics have also found this project useful. For instance, the article and the book were cited multiple times by Nina Billone Priuer in her 2010 dissertation In the System: Art, Prison, and the Performance of Social Welfare.
At the start of this project, Krista hoped that it would “lead to a comprehensive database and resource guide [that] strengthen[s] the network of organizations involved in prison work. It would also help to increase the resources of Voices UnBroken, allowing them to continue growing into a stronger non-profit organization with a more developed national network." Looking back at the project five years later, it has met and exceeded these goals. Voices UnBroken is now a more established nonprofit in the New York juvenile justice scene. The national arts in corrections networks have continued to strengthen, thanks to the October 2007 Arts in Criminal Justice conference organized by the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, the September 2008 Critical Resistance conference that gave rise to the Prison Arts Coalition, and continued communication between artists, academics, and activists.
Krista told us: “It was such a privilege to be able to work on a project of my own creation and direction immediately upon graduation. Over the course of my fellowship year, I visited programs and talked with project directors, artist facilitators, professors, prisoners and other participants. These observations and conversations shaped by understanding of the nonprofit sector and the specific field of prison arts in such a profound way that would have been impossible as an employee of a single organization. I often return to the experiences of that year to guide my thinking as a scholar and an educator of language, literature and culture moving between the university and the prison.”
Starting in March 2007, Krista studied Brazilian music, politics and cultural history as a Fulbright scholar. During her academic year at Unicamp (Campinas SP), she reflected upon the ways in which her academic interests in Latin American culture could intersect with her growing commitment to social justice and prison reform. She reached the decision that an academic path would best allow for the combination of these interests. Currently, Krista is a third-year graduate student in Spanish and Portuguese at University of California, Berkeley. In addition to teaching Portuguese to Cal students, she maintains an involvement in prison education. Since fall 2009, she has volunteered as an instructor with the Prison University Project at San Quentin, one of the programs she researched during her fellowship year. She has taught courses in World Literature, Beginning Spanish, and Conversational Spanish, and also tutored students in writing and math. Her experiences in the classroom – both at Cal and San Quentin – inform her readings, research, and pedagogical perspective. She continues to believe that education and the arts are essential human experiences.
Krista concluded: “As one of '06 fellowship recipients, I am particularly excited about the the new ReachOut 56-81-06 alliance. This partnership will ensure the continued success of ReachOut's fellowship program and other existing projects. Our class brings energy, enthusiasm and innovative ideas to this intergenerational collaboration. We look forward to working with and learning from the classes of '56 and '81 as we give back to Princeton and the community beyond.”