Rikers Island is a 413-acre spot of land in the East River, home to the eponymous and notoriously violence-ridden prison complex where beatings are the most commonly noted form of expression. In 2004, a group of concerned friends formed the New York-based Prison Education Initiative (PEI), a nonprofit aimed at changing that reputation by offering meaningful education to incarcerated women. Though classes on law or hip hop at Riker’s Rose M. Singer Center drew respectable amounts of students (generally 6-20 per class), none have matched the success of the Fashion Theory course, which boasts a 30-inmate roster. It’s no college lecture hall, but PEI is betting that smallest stitches of discussion can promote creativity and identity.
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