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In 2020, I was invited by a close friend to join Poetic Justice, an organization that offers restorative writing and creative arts programs to individuals who are incarcerated in women’s prisons and jails. Collaborating with founder Ellen Stackable and engaging with the participants at various facilities sparked an idea. I envisioned gaining access to these spaces with my camera, facilitating collaborative sessions with these women to craft their “self-portraits”. These images would reflect their desired self-perception and complement their written works.

My vision from the start was to showcase these portraits on a grand scale, ensuring that viewers would be captivated by the human subjects before them. This vision was realized thanks to the efforts of Director Katie Turner, who secured the National Endowment for the Arts grant that supplied the funding for the project.

In December 2022, armed with only my camera, I was granted access to The California Institute for Women. Working closely with fifteen willing participants, we brought their portraits to life. As a result of this work, in August 2023, Oklahoma lifted its “no media” ban, allowing me entry into two of their correctional facilities. There, twenty-three more incarcerated women volunteered to participate in this transformative project, which we call Voices on the Inside.

These intimate self portraits have already graced multiple galleries in Oklahoma with plans for California exhibitions in Spring/Summer 2024. The impact this experience has had on my life has been profound and the overwhelming gratitude I’ve experienced is beyond words.

Lisa Loftus

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