Sing Sing Spotlights Rehabilitation Through the Arts 

From left: Colman Domingo and Clarence Maclin in a scene from the film Sing Sing. Photo courtesy of A2

Sing Sing, a film based on the work of a nonprofit that helps incarcerated individuals develop life skills through the arts, is slated for a July premiere in New York after winning the Festival Favorite Audience Award last month at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas.   

The motion picture was produced by Rehabilitation Through the Arts and is based on RTA’s theater program inside the men’s maximum security correctional facility in Ossining 

Most of the actors in the film are RTA alumni including Clarence “Divine Eye” Maclin, John “Divine G” Whitfield, Sean Dino Johnson and Dario Peña. Also in the film are Oscar-nominated actors Colman Domingo and Paul Raci. 

Sing Sing is a powerful film that provides a unique lens to the incarcerated community, and we are incredibly honored and proud that it brings the impact of RTA’s life-changing programs to the silver screen for the world to experience,” said RTA Interim Executive Director Leslie Lichter. “Our goal is to broaden our impact of fostering personal growth and community building by expanding our reach to more people in prisons across New York and the nation.” 

Maclin, the film’s lead actor, said the film demonstrated how the program had made a lasting impact on his life and hundreds of others. “RTA encourages you to self-reflect and find hope, courage, and community along the way,” he said. 

Sing Sing cast members pictured left to right: Sean Dino Johnson, Clarence “Divine Eye” Maclin, Jon-Adrian “JJ” Velazquez, Colman Domingo, John “Divine G” Whitfield. Photo Credit: Rehabilitation Through the Arts

Whitfield, one of RTA’s founding members, said the film “holds a unique and very special moment in my life and proves that everything that went wrong in my life ultimately turned out to make everything right. RTA is a miracle-inducing program – I have witnessed transformations, including my own. If not for my time served in Sing Sing, I would have never written 13 novels or 12 screenplays. In life, sometimes you have to get crushed and hit rock bottom to bring out the beauty and the power in us.” 

Johnson, an RTA alumnus and board member, called the arts “a powerful vehicle that heals.” 

“RTA taught me the true meaning of community, and the film is about finding the confidence and courage to make transformational change and form life-saving friendships,” he said. 

Sing Sing was directed and co-written by Greg Kwedar and his filmmaking partner Clint Bentley, who were inspired to create the film while volunteering as instructors at the facility. The film depicts facets of life in prison and how the arts can help build community, explore opportunities in education and seek positive outcomes in life.  

“We’ve worked on this movie for over seven years, and every time I meet a new RTA participant or alumnus, I grow more confident that this is one of the most unique and transformative programs that I’ve ever encountered,” Kwedar said.  

The SXSW red carpet event kicked off with a feature session, The Beautiful Exchange: Front Row with the Sing Sing Cast with the film’s principal actors, followed by a screening of the film. The event concluded with a panel discussion that featured Kwedar, Bentley, producer Monique Walton, editor Parker Laramie and cinematographer Pat Scola. 

For nearly 30 years, RTA has worked with professional teaching artists to lead workshops in theater, dance, music, creative writing and visual arts. Founded by Katherine Vockins, who led the nonprofit for 26 years, the RTA model provides an intensive, comprehensive arts program that builds skills so that people can meet the challenges of connecting with family and community when released.  

More than 1,000 incarcerated individuals have participated, and thousands more have been touched by RTA, including participants’ friends and family who attend performances. 

RTA currently works in the following New York correctional facilities: Sing Sing, Bedford Hills, Collins, Fishkill, Green Haven, Taconic, Wallkill and Woodourne. RTA has produced dozens of plays and theater productions including 12 Angry Men, Macbeth, The Wizard of Oz, Our Town and A Few Good Men, to name a few. RTA runs workshops year-round in theater, dance, music, creative writing, and visual arts. 

RTA asserts that its members have a far lower recidivism rate than the national average and says its participants often pursue higher education afterward.  

Sing Sing will be released nationwide by film and television studio A24 this July. Watch the trailer and find more information at: 


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About the Author: Robert Brum