'Sanctuary' on Broad Street to provide creative outlet for formerly incarcerated people

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A new workshop space on Broad Street sponsored by Open Minds — a program of Virginia Commonwealth University and the Richmond City Sheriff's Office — will provide formerly incarcerated Richmond-area residents and their families a place to continue to learn and create together.

The space, called Sanctuary, is located at 101 W. Broad St., and will provide GED tutoring and workshops on web design, writing, monologues, screen printing, yoga, art therapy, job preparation and more.

"We are geared toward the arts and creative expression, so we see ourselves as filling that hole among re-entry programs in Richmond, which often focus more on things like getting bus passes and getting housing and things like that," said Sanctuary founder Liz Canfield, an assistant professor in the College of Humanities and Sciences' Department of Gender, Sexuality and Women's Studies. "We're hoping to supplement those programs."

Sanctuary will open its doors for the first time on Friday, from 6 to 8 p.m., and will then be open seven days a week, from noon to 5 p.m., as well as at other times for certain workshops and special events.

Canfield, who is co-director of Open Minds, which provides dual enrollment classes for VCU students and incarcerated people at the Richmond City Jail, said Sanctuary will be something of an extension of the courses taught in the jail.

"It'll be kind of like what we do in the jail, but this will be more open," she said.

Last year, Canfield was awarded a $25,000 grant from VCU's Quest Innovation Fund, which provides seed funding to support innovative pilot initiatives at the university that advance its strategic plan, Quest for Distinction. A portion of the grant was spent to provide startup funds for Sanctuary.

Sanctuary will serve as a sober place in which formerly incarcerated people can gather in a way geared toward education, mutual support and aid, and recovery.  

Workshops will be taught by VCU faculty members and graduate students, as well as members of the community.

All of Sanctuary's classes will be free and open to the public, though they will emphasize supporting people who were formerly incarcerated and their families.

"We understand that the prison pipeline is a pretty serious thing, so we want to invite people from the neighborhoods and we want to really stop this movement of people from our neighborhoods into prisons," Canfield said. "People who are in the community who have not been incarcerated, we want them to come too."

While many of Sanctuary's workshops will involve creativity, some of them will seek to help formerly incarcerated people transition back into society, Canfield said.

"Some of what we'll be offering will be more nuts and bolts, teaching you things like: How do you write a resume? How do apply for jobs? How do you talk about your felony status in interviews?"


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