Xinyi “Sandy” Ma ’13

Prison Arts and Reentry Program







I have been volunteering with the Landis Center for three years. From a volunteer to a program coordinator, I spend 4-5 hours in Landis every week. Landis is the place I found myself after class. It is the place for me to slow down and think who I am and who I want to be as someone in the community.

Yet my volunteer experience even went beyond that this semester. It was amazingly connected to my academic interests in architecture. I have always been fascinated by the idea of construction, and I double majored in Civil Engineering (B.S.) and Art (A.B.) to pursue this interest. Last semester, I audited an architectural studio class lectured by Paul Felder, a practicing architect. While we were chatting after class and I told Professor Felder my amazing experience in Dr. Winfield’s art program for women from Northampton County Prison.  He was impressed by my three-year volunteer experience with the women in prison and told me that he recently got a re-entry building design project for women released from prison. He encouraged me to work with him in this project as an independent study.

The design process is a very challenging one. Not only because I didn’t have any  traditional architectural training before, but also because of the additional requirements for this building project due to its special residents. However, I was fully motivated. I was so excited working on it because I knew I was designing the house for the amazing women I met and knew in prison. My time spent with the women and my understanding of them accumulated over the past three years all became the departure point for the design. How can a building help its residents gain confidence? How can a building help its residents resist the temptations that had caught them in prison again and again? How can a building erase its residents’ negative memory about past? Because I believe design can impact human behaviors, I believe that, if designed carefully, this building will become a place in which its residents can relax and stay positive.

Throughout the development of floor plans and elevations, we have always considered the women’s past experience, their needs and difficulties after being released. These were all incorporated in the design. When I finally built the model and presented it in front of the client, the client burst into tears and kept saying: she works with the women, she knows them, that’s the design she wants …

I cannot tell how rewarding this experience has been, and how wonderful volunteering with Landis is.