With financial support from Jerry Smith and the Jerry and Donna Smith Family Foundation, in July of 2006, Johnny began regularly facilitating weekly dialogues among Two Rivers prison inmates. The theme of the dialogues is: “The Stories We Tell Ourselves: How Our Thinking Shapes Our Lives.” During these dialogues, prisoners discuss how to live a meaningful life while in prison, how to change one’s destructive patterns of life and thought in order to find happiness, and how to make a positive contribution to society.
Mr. Stallings formalized this work by founding Open Hearts Open Minds. Open Hearts Open Minds had its first board meeting on July 26, 2007, at which bylaws were adopted and officers elected. On December 26, 2007, the IRS granted Open Hearts Open Minds 501 (c) 3 tax-exempt status as a public charitable organization.
Members of Johnny’s dialogue group asked if they could put on a play. On March 12, 2008, they began rehearsals for a production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. They gave four performances for their fellow inmates and two performances for the general public, which included members of their families, in late September and early October of 2008. This was the first time that inmates in an Oregon prison performed a play by William Shakespeare.
Since then, an annual play has become a tradition at Two Rivers Correctional Institution. Members of the dialogue group have performed Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2010), and Twelfth Night (2011). In 2012 they performed their first non-Shakespearean play: Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose.
Open Hearts Open Minds provides a program under-which individuals can become certified Oregon Department of Corrections Volunteers. Our goal is to support and encourage many more people to share their knowledge and talents with prison inmates.
Our present focus is on our weekly meaning-of-life dialogues, planning on an annual theatrical performance by prison inmates and on raising money for our documentary feature film A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Prison by Bushra Azzouz.
We also plan to create more events and programs to bring about positive change in the lives of people who aren’t in prison.