“Artists are the gatekeepers of truth. We are civilization’s radical voice.”

Paul Robeson


Art by Russell Craig





We received hundreds of submissions, and we were inspired by the strength of the applications and the commitment of so many formerly incarcerated artists using their work to respond to the damaging effects of mass incarceration. We were pleased with the enthusiastic response to our call for applications, but that also meant that it was a highly competitive process and we had to make some difficult choices in selecting finalists. The evaluators worked with great care and respect for each applicant in carrying out their challenging task. Thank you to our review committee: Asha Bandele, Baz Dreisinger, Sam Durant, Natasha Logan, Steven Pargett and Yosi Sergant. Thank you again to everyone who applied, your work inspires us.

Congratulations to our inaugural fellows:

Mary Baxter

Reginald 'Dwayne' Betts

Russell Craig

Sheri Crider

Jesse Krimes

Juan Ortiz

Shontina Vernon

The Soze Agency is proud to announce the first year of the Right of Return USA Fellowship, funded by Open Philanthropy. This fellowship program will invest in formerly incarcerated artists to create original works that can further criminal justice reform in partnership with advocates and organizers. The first cohort will include seven artists with diverse backgrounds, who will each receive a $10,000.00 prize, plus $10,000.00 for materials and production.

Artists as culture makers have a critical role to play in transforming society into one that is more just, and the push to end mass incarceration is no exception. Artists distill complex issues and emotions, helping us make sense of the world around us. By connecting their audiences to vivid expressions of truth, such as the inhumane conditions of solitary confinement, they inspire us to urgent action. Artists are organizers, connecting people together and building power to reimagine the world.

While many artists have explored the issue of mass incarceration, formerly incarcerated artists have an especially important role in exploring this issue. Speaking from their own life stories, these artists powerfully ground their audiences in the experience of incarceration, helping us to break through the wall of ignorance and shame that often disconnects the public from action. As such, they are critical strategic partners in efforts to challenge mass incarceration at all levels. We hope that this fellowship will not only amplify the work of 7 formerly incarcerated artists, but will also help to build a wave of interest in the vision of formerly incarcerated artists for America after mass incarceration.

The Right of Return project encourages formerly incarcerated artists of all disciplines who seek to challenge mass incarceration through their creative practice -- including visual, performing, media, design, and other creative professions – to apply for the fellowship.  


In addition to receiving financial support for the proposed project, Returning Citizens Fellows will have a group retreat from June 22 - 25th, 2017 ( U.S. based location TBD); participation is a requirement of the fellowship. The central aims of the retreat are to foster relationships, gain perspective on the problems of mass incarceration and innovative solutions, and develop a deeper knowledge of the campaign for purposes of the fellowship. The retreat may include master classes on campaign strategies, criminal justice policy, and/or past and present and history of political art.






Art by Jesse Krimes