Oral Histories

Interview of Herbert Wells

Writer and actor with the Poetic Justice Project. Former member of the Arts-in-Corrections program while incarcerated.
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
Aoki, Kyoko
Wells, Herbert
Persons Present:
Wells and Aoki.
Place Conducted:
Wells's home in Rialto, 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. Wells 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.
1 hr.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Series Statement:
The Arts-in-Corrections oral history series documents 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 Los Angeles, California — Prison sentences — 2003: Goes to California Men’s Colony (CMC) — First contact with Arts-in-Corrections (AIC) — Writes rap music growing up — Hears about Arts-in-Corrections through a friend who is trying to get a part in a play — 1-3% of prison population is involved in AIC — First play collaborating with CMC artist facilitator — Describes play rehearsals — Describes structure of days and prison environment — AIC is diverse and inclusive; first time interafting with other races — Tries to get a position within AIC and participates in classes — Transitioning from the environment in the prison yard to the AIC environment is difficult — Involvement in AIC doesn’t change administration or guards’ perception but teachers notice a change — Becomes a mentor for the drug program in prison -- Acts in a Shakespeare play — In and out of the hole for the first few years at CMS — Begins writing a book and begins looking at life differently -- Participating in every form of life that AID has to offer — Interacts with a diverse group of people -- "What happens in AIC stays in AIC" motto allows people to open up in class — Every job in the prison has to be racially balanced — Schedules concerts in all of the yards — AIC only place in prison where you can be yourself and where you will interact with different races — Becomes involved with Deborah Tobola's Poetic Justice Project —Before AIC longest time out of prison was about eight months; now has been out for four years — Keeps a regimented schedule that includes time for art work — Method of learning lines for plays — Talk back at the end of each play — Performing outside of prison — Poetic Justice Project — Works as a drug and alcohol counselor — Reflects on experiencing and responding to peer pressure growing up and goal to provide alternatives for youth today — Change has to be a choice in any type of recovery — Prisons are designed to keep people divided in order to control population — More on the Poetic Justice Project.