MARYSVILLE, Ohio — Prisoners have limitations on where they can go, but a new dance program at the Ohio Reformatory for Women (ORW) is allowing them an escape, as they work to rebuild their lives.
We visited ORW last month, taking in their tap dance program for 15 women, part of the therapeutic Tapestry community. They get together every Friday for 90 minutes to sharpen their skills.
The program is allowing them the freedom to step into new lives, leaving behind their old ones.
“Everything outside of these gates that I had, that’s been stripped away from me. It was so precious, and you just, you don’t appreciate those things in the moment," inmate, Stephanie Pollock said. “It connects you. I don’t really know how to describe it, but you’re just sharing something that’s so meaningful. So, it really connects us as not only sisters, but just as women.”
The women were randomly chosen to take part. The shoes they lace up, and the boards they stomp on, were donated, thanks to their teacher, Jessica Kehn.
Kehn says after performing at the prison, she wanted to make a difference there.
“I got a group of my friends together and we did like a small tap performance here, and then they asked us to come back and do a tap class. So, that’s how we got started," said Kehn.
She's watched her students blossom from timid tappers, to smooth steppers in a matter of weeks.
“That was such a wonderful progression to see from like that first class where, you know, everyone is like really stiff and looking down, to like, they’re just grooving," Kehn described.
Photos: Tap program at Ohio Reformatory is helping inmates
Their dedication has moved Warden Teri Baldauf.
“It’s, 'How can I give more today than they give me?'” Warden Baldauf said. “I want them to go to the community, become successful and come back and tell us about it. You know, maybe it wasn’t easy, but here’s how I overcame it. This is part of my life. This is what I’m doing today and it’s hopefully, they can say that some of the programming here helped them to transition into the community.”
In this community, everyone has a story: "I have various trafficking charges. But it was all regarding around my drug issue," Pollock said.
She only has five months left on the inside.
“I’m overjoyed. I’m so ready to get back to my kids… Yeah, I’m ready,” Pollock said with tears in her eyes.
Much like dance, learning life lessons takes time, and hard work … from the top of their toes, to the deepest part of their souls. These women, all recovering addicts, now look forward to a different rhythm on the outside.