The new half-hour documentary Lens & Pens: Art in an Unexpected Place tells the story of a poetry, painting, and photography workshop and its profound impact on three people deemed by the criminal justice system ‘not guilty by reason of insanity.’ Relegated to life in the John Howard Pavilion—the former maximum-security wing of Washington, DC’s, historic St. Elizabeth’s Hospital—patients Ronnie Crooks, Pamela Thomas, and Kevin McCain ultimately “luck out” when in 1989 then-social worker and chief of the hospital’s Dual Diagnosis Treatment Branch Ed Washington conceives the Lens, Pens, Brushes & Friends program.
Ed opens the film’s narrative as he expresses his intent that the arts workshop begin to bridge the divide between this treatment population and the outside community. Framed by his recollections of the program’s evolution, laced with interviews of Ronnie, Pam, and Kevin and the workshop’s three volunteer-teachers, Joy Jones, Maureen Jais-Mick, and Kate DeCiccio (representing poetry, photography, and painting), and graced by footage of the students’ artwork, the documentary gives every indication that Ed’s hopes will be realized. With public exhibits, performances, and even sales of their art, and with substantial leaps in artistic skill and self-confidence, Ronnie, Pam, and Kevin grow beyond anything they could have imagined—and must now balance a newfound freedom with an uncertain future.
Lens & Pens: Art in an Unexpected Place tells the inspiring story of a poetry, painting, and photography workshop and its profound impact on “criminally insane” patients held under maximum security at Washington, DC’s, St. Elizabeths Hospital. While some will spend their entire life at “St. E’s,” others have left the hospital for the greater community and will continue to develop themselves and their art—if they “can just keep the pieces in place.” Featuring Ronnie, Pam, and Kevin, three patient-participants whose lives are transformed by the workshop; its founder, social worker Ed Washington; and its three dedicated volunteer-teachers.