Oral Histories

Interview of Laurie Brooks

Executive director of the William James Association. Advocate for legislative support to reinstate arts programming in correctional institutions.
Arts in Corrections: Interviews with Participants in California Department of Corrections' Institutional Arts Program
Community History
UCLA and University of California History
UCLA History: Events and Projects
Biographical Note:
Executive director of the William James Association. Advocate for legislative support to reinstate arts programming in correctional institutions.
Aoki, Kyoko
Brooks, Laurie
Persons Present:
Brooks and Akoi.
Place Conducted:
Brooks's home in Santa Cruz, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Kyoko Aoki; MLIS, UCLA.
Processing of Interview:
The interviewer prepared a timed log of the audio recording of the interview. Brooks was given the opportunity to review the log in order to supply missing or misspelled names and to verify the accuracy of the content but made no changes.Interviewees were identified through the Arts-in-Corrections archival records, introductions by individuals at the William James Association and the Poetic Justice Project, and through snowball sampling where existing narrators recruited or recommended other narrators for inclusion in the project. Dr. Larry Brewster, dean of the College of Professional Studies at the University of San Francisco, and Dr. Ben Harbert, assistant professor of music at Georgetown University, who have conducted independent research related to Arts-in-Corrections, also provided introductions and contact information for potential interviewees.UCLA’s Office of the Human Research Protection Program has approved this oral history project through its Institutional Review Board. Interviewees were selected and approached according to guidelines set forth in the IRB application. No artists who are still incarcerated, or anyone under parole supervision or probation were contacted for this project.
1.5 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Series Statement:
The interviews in the series Arts in Corrections: Interviews with Participants in California Department of Corrections' Institutional Arts Program document the stories of formerly incarcerated artists, professional artists, and administrators who participated in the Arts-in-Corrections program. Arts-in-Corrections was a California Department of Corrections program that placed professional artists in correctional institutions across the state to provide incarcerated men and women instruction in a variety of artistic media, including the visual arts, theater, musical performance, creative writing, and poetry. The program spanned three decades from 1979 to 2010. The oral history interviews were conducted as part of the interviewer's master's thesis research and then donated to the Center for Oral History Research. Archival materials related to the Arts-in-Corrections program are available at the UCLA University Archives and the UCLA Ethnomusicology Archive.
Born in Flagstaff, Arizona—Grows up in the Phoenix area—Parents divorce when Brooks is young—Mother is active in the arts and literacy—Starts doing pottery in high school—Moves to San Diego around 1983 and moves to Santa Cruz in 1986 to attend University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC)—Studies economics and community studies—Lives and studies for six months in Tijuana working with a human rights organization, Save the Children, and UNICEF—Goes into juvenile jails to do interviews with kids and presents testimony on abuse in the jails—Goes to live in Peru as an exchange student while in high school—While at UCSC, starts working with Barrios Unidos, Women’s Crisis Support, and the Commission for the Prevention of Violence Against Women—Begins working as an office manager with William James Association (WJA) after graduation—WJA Prison Arts Project (PAP)—PAP work-study student Dana Lomax starts working with Claire Braz Valentine, who is teaching writing at Soledad Prison and wrote a play with women at the prison in Chowchilla—Lomax goes on to start teaching in the prisons—Brooks goes inside a prison for the first time at Deuel Vocational Institution and visits the Arts in Corrections (AIC) class—The powerful juxtaposition of freedom, insight, and deeply personal artwork and a stark prison environment—Expansion of prisons in the 1990s and growth of funding for PAP—Trying to determine role of PAP within corrections—Maintains a commitment to ensure that artists are paid for their work—Becomes Program Manager—AIC model of identifying local artists to participate at each prison and having an artist facilitator within the prison to allow artists to focus primarily on art—What the artist selection panel looks for in artists—Orienting artists to work in prisons---Background of women in prisons—WJA begins working with the National Endowment for the Arts to implement an artists-in-residence program in federal prisons—Gets married and temporarily leaves WJA—Upon return, works at the new Salinas Valley State Prison (Soledad II) for six months to set up AIC as the prison is opening—Prison culture at San Quentin, Deuel Vocational Institution, Salinas Valley, Correctional Training Facility, Pelican Bay—Ellen Davidson leaves WJA; Bruce Van Allen becomes Executive Director –Department of Corrections ends funding for PAP in 2002/2003—Henry Mello gets funding for AIC institutionalized in the Department of Corrections budget—As Office of Community Resources becomes more involved, documentation requirements increase—Dilemma inherent in advocating for a prison program—More on the Office of Community Resources and its staff—AIC becomes a bridging program; inmates in a bridging program gets a “day for day,” which invites people who are close to release, not necessarily interested in the arts—AIC eliminates Artist Facilitator position entirely in 2010—More on WJA’s work—Goes on unemployment after WJA loses contract with Department of Corrections—Receives a $30,000 grant from the Kalliopeia Foundation for five years to restart arts programming at San Quentin—Men who participate in the program help raise money for a matching grant through food sales and money from anthologies published by a writing group, Brothers in Pen—Continues lobbying and advocacy work to get legislative support for an arts program in prisons—New realignment program that holds people in county jail as opposed to feeding them into the prison system provides potential for new programs in jails—Gathering evidence to advocate for arts programs in jails—Larry Brewster of University of California, San Francisco does a cost-benefit analysis of AIC in 1982—Brewster publishes a book of interviews with former inmates--Art as a powerful force that helps people understand the external world, express inner life, and connect them to others.