Inside & Out: The Arts, Humanities, and Re-entry


Jul 12, 2023


This is an invitation-only event.

Illinois Humanities partners with WTTW to host a short screening, compelling conversation, and meaningful meal. Inside & Out: The Arts, Humanities, and Re-entry asks: how can the humanities and the arts be tools for healing, for pursuing freedom, for building a livelihood, and for staying connected throughout incarceration and re-entry?

This conversation is connected with FIRSTHAND: Life After Prison, a year-long WTTW initiative offering an intimate look at the challenges and opportunities facing people returning to society after spending time in prison. The series follows them as they seek to restart their lives while carrying the stigma of a criminal record.

Panelists Denzel Burke, Nicholas Crayton, Michael Fischer, and Faylita Hicks discuss how they developed their own unique practices, from poetry to pedagogy, all while resisting the dehumanizing impacts of the criminal legal system. Following the panel discussion, attendees including artists, creators, educators, organizers, and policymakers will enjoy a delicious meal from Parson’s Chicken & Fish.

This program is created to illuminate, inform, and cultivate relationships, collaborations, and visions around the power of the arts and humanities to resist and transcend barriers, especially those imposed by the carceral state.

*This is an invitation-only event. If you would like to be added to the invitation list, please email

More on the Panelists


Denzel Burke is a community builder, facilitator, organizer, and the co-director/co-founder of the REAL Youth Initiative, a peer navigation program that develops revolutionary consciousness and builds community with currently and formerly incarcerated youth to work towards the abolition of prisons and the conditions that (re)produce them.

Burke is also a consultant for the Justice 20/20 Network and an Ambassador Fellow for the Illinois Prison Project. Upon his release from the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice in July of 2019, Denzel began studies at Chicago State University and co-facilitated 32 convenings inside the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice with Northwestern University Bluhm Legal Clinic, interviewing incarcerated young people about how they would reimagine the juvenile justice system. Denzel connected again with the Bluhm Legal Clinic and a collective of abolitionists to launch the Final 5 Campaign.

Today, the REAL Youth Initiative runs programming for youth in facilities across the state of Illinois and provides community reentry programming to young people as they come home. Denzel currently lives in Northbrook and plans to receive a PhD in Africology and African American Studies.


Nicholas Crayton is an author, artist, motivational speaker, social entrepreneur, justice advocate, and mentor. Nick was incarcerated at the age of 18 and spent 24 years in prison. Despite this incarceration during his formative years, he was determined to use his time productively in the pursuit of his own rehabilitation. While there, he earned his Masters Degree in Theology, became fluent in Biblical Hebrew, and earned his Associates in Liberal Studies. Nicholas is the author of The Reciprocal Effect and Inspiring Generations, which emphasizes the need to help others in order to help themselves. He is an advocate for social justice issues and has been a mentor to many.

Nicholas’s commitment to helping others has led him to found the 4GOT10, a brand that is focused on empowering others with apparel and accessories that represent them. Nicholas is a highly sought-after speaker, giving talks on topics such as social entrepreneurship, self-development, and restorative practices. Nicholas is also a prolific artist, creating beautiful and inspiring works of art that serve as a reminder of the importance of helping others.

Nicholas’s life is devoted to making the world a better place, and his message of hope, motivation, and inspiration is shared with everyone he meets. He is a true example of how one person can make a positive difference in the lives of many.


Michael Fischer is a humanities instructor in the Odyssey Project, a free college credit program for income-eligible adults. He’s a Luminarts Cultural Foundation fellow, Right of Return USA fellow, Illinois Humanities Envisioning Justice commissioned humanist, and finalist for the PEN America Writing for Justice Fellowship and Education Trust Justice Fellows Policy Program.

Fischer’s nonfiction has been nominated multiple times for a Pushcart Prize and cited as notable in Best American Essays, appears in The New York Times, Salon, The Sun, Lit Hub, Guernica, Orion, The Rumpus, and elsewhere.

A Moth StorySLAM winner, Michael tells stories in Moth Mainstage shows across the country and has been featured on podcasts including the Outside Magazine Podcast, Modern Love: The Podcast, and The Moth Radio Hour.


Faylita Hicks (she/they) is a queer Afro-Latinx writer, spoken word artist, and cultural strategist. Newly based in Chicago, Hicks is the author of the critically acclaimed collection HoodWitch (Acre Books, 2019), a finalist for the 2020 Lambda Literary Award for Bisexual Poetry, the 2019 Julie Suk Award, and the 2019 Balcones Poetry Prize.

Currently, they are working on a second poetry collection, A Map of My Want (Haymarket Books, 2024), and a debut memoir about their carceral experience, A Body of Wild Light (Haymarket Books, 2025). Both projects are partly supported by grants, fellowships, residencies, and awards from the Art for Justice Fund, Black Mountain Institute, Tin House, Center for Arts and Advocacy, and Right of Return USA.

Hicks released their latest indie spoken word album, A New Name for My Love (Arrondi Productions, 2021) after becoming a voting member of the Recording Academy/GRAMMYs. Their personal account of their time in pretrial incarceration in Hays County, TX is featured in the ITVS Independent Lens 2019 documentary 45 Days in a Texas Jail, and the Brave New Films 2021 documentary narrated by Mahershala Ali Racially Charged: America’s Misdemeanor Problem.


Tyreece Williams is the program manager for the Envisioning Justice initiative at Illinois Humanities which leverages the arts and humanities to envision alternatives to the enduring injustice of mass incarceration. In this role, he oversees the program’s grantmaking portfolio and develops free, high-quality humanities experiences throughout Illinois designed to enrich individual and community-based visions of justice.

Tyreece graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a degree in Communications. It was after graduating from UIC that Tyreece transitioned into work in the non-profit sector, originally as the administrative assistant for Snow City Arts, an organization inspiring and educating children and youth in hospitals through the arts.