There is a group of artists, writers, teachers and social workers that are trying to make a difference in Montana. The Free Verse Project is a program that works with incarcerated youth in Montana. They were created in 2014. I recently spoke with Lorna Buckingham of The Free Verse Project, this is how she describes the project.

We are a non-profit here in Missoula County. We have been in existence since 2014. We started as a small project out of the Masters of Fine Arts department at the University of Montana. Teaching creative writing and poetry to kids who are incarcerated in Missoula County. Over the years we have transformed from that small group focus to providing arts education and arts programming, to kids who are incarcerated or justice involved across Montana.

Free Verse Project Has Grown Rapidly In Montana

What started as a small focused group in Missoula County has continued to grow in Montana in a short time. They are now in multiple locations in Montana teaching different aspects of art. Lorna continued:

We have working artists in the communities, who go into juvenile detention centers, juvenile youth group homes, shelter care. We work in the juvenile psychiatric in patient units here in Missoula as well. So it's really any kid who is experiencing confinement in any way. We provide arts and humanities educational based programming to them in those facilities.

Montana Artists Have Voices

The work that the kids do is part of the community. The Free Verse Project publishes the written work and they also have art displays that travel to communities in Montana. The goal isn't always a final piece of art. It goes much deep than that. Lorna continued:

Our main focus is really to keep these kids voices in their communities, because this is a population that experiences, so much isolation and erasure from their communities. Once folks are incarcerated or confined in some way, they have been erased from their communities. We really take that seriously and take that to heart and we really want their output to remain in their communities.

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Montana Fundraising Happens Occasionally

Occasionally Free Verse will be hosting fundraisers throughout the state. We will keep you informed of when and where those happen if you would like to participate. In the meantime if you would like more information on The Free Verse Project, you can check out their website or you can email them directly at You can also visit their website and buy prints of the artwork created by the kids.

Art Is Only A Part Of The Montana Project

It isn't all about the art it is also about juvenile justice. Lorna adds:

At our heart we are an arts organization, more than that, we are becoming a juvenile justice organization. Our main priority is to keep these kids voices and presence in their communities.

Helping To Change Montana

The Free Verse Project will be releasing their seasonal anthology soon. It is made up of written word and art from juvenile detention centers in Missoula, Great Falls, Billings, and the Pine Hills Correctional Facility for boys in Miles City. Free Voices has grown state wide in a very short time and they continue to make sure that incarcerated kids have value and help their voices be heard in Montana.

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