Our Team

The team behind the DU Prison Arts Initiative brings dedication backed by years of experience in working for the public good. We're a group of educators, scholars and professionals bringing together knowledge from across academic disciplines and creative forms. Our leadership has developed arts initiatives at prison facilities across Colorado and beyond, and works closely with a team of student scholars who contribute to research and programming. Faculty partners from across the DU campus provide critical insight into the challenges facing incarcerated people, enabling our staff to craft programs that transform lives.

DU PAI was founded in 2017 by Apryl Alexander, PsyD, Ashley Hamilton, PhD, and Rachael Zafer, MPA.

Meet the Team

Our Staff

  • Ashley Hamilton – Executive Director

    Co-Founder and Executive Director

    Dr. Ashley Lauren Hamilton is an Assistant Professor of Theatre at the University of Denver and Co-Founder and Executive Director of DU Prison Arts Initiative (DU PAI).  Ashley's work ranges from teaching in university and community spaces, creating theatre, storytelling and performance throughout the United States’ prison system, directing and devising university and professional work in Colorado and New York, and running one of the most robust and innovative prison arts programs in the country. Ashley's research and scholarship focuses on the complexities of teaching and creating theatre in applied spaces, specifically prisons, and how this practice can be used as a resource for authentic dialogue, affectual experience, transformation, and culture shifts. Further, Ashley has special expertise in sharing the results of her work with the community and with the public through the arts to generate conversation and social change.

    Ashley has been working within the United States’ correctional system for over twelve years as an educator and artist and has taught and created various educational and artistic projects in over two dozen prisons in the United States. Hamilton has taught for four different prison education programs, developing and leading various courses in associate and bachelor degree programs inside prisons. She also co-founded and ran a theatre company for men and women coming home from prison in New York City called ReEmergent Theatre. 

    Ashley co-founded DU PAI in 2017 and acts as its Executive Director. On behalf of DU PAI, Ashley secured an unprecedented multi-million-dollar, six-year contract with the Colorado Department of Corrections to bring arts-based, educational programming into every prison in the state of Colorado. DU PAI is a robust program that brings arts-based, educational and therapeutic programming — covering numerous artistic modalities — into twelve prisons in Colorado and serves thousands of incarcerated people and their family members. In addition to Ashley’s administrative, management and visioning work at DU PAI, Ashley has a robust practice of creating and overseeing several unprecedented, innovative artistic projects for the organization — including directing and devising theatre productions, producing the With(in) podcast, executing two prison theatre tours (including one to the public), overseeing the first state-wide prison newspaper The Inside Report and the first state-wide, public-facing prison radio station in the world Inside Wire: Colorado Prison Radio.

    Since 2018 Ashley’s work — and DU PAI — have been mentioned and reviewed in over 200 national, international and local media stories from The New York Times to National FOX NewsNBC News, CBS News, US News, National Public Radio (NPR), The Denver Post, Colorado Public Radio (CPR), Associated Press, Yahoo News and beyond. DU PAI’s press release for Inside Wire: Colorado Prison Radio alone was shared on 330 different sites and reached a potential audience of 222 million people — it currently stands as the most shared press release in the history of The University of Denver. 

    Ashley has a PhD in Educational Theatre from New York University where she focused on theatre for social change. Her dissertation is titled: Towards Rehabilitation: Devised Theatre as Liminal Transformer in a Women’s Maximum Security Prison. Ashley also has an MA from New York University in Educational Theatre, Theatre for Colleges and Communities and a BFA in Performance from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Ashley is in the process of becoming a registered drama therapist (RDT).

    Ashley has directed, devised and performed in diverse spaces: Off-Broadway, at NYU, in homeless shelters, in India and East Africa, in a dozen prisons, mental health facilities, at the University of Denver and with the Denver Center for the Performing Arts (DCPA) Off-Center. Ashley teaches courses at the University of Denver such as Theatre Imagination, Page to Stage, Theatre for Social Change, Interview-Based Theatre, Devising Theatre and more.

    Full Profile

  • Ryan Conarro – Director of Creative Media & General Manager, Inside Wire: Colorado Prison Radio

    Director of Creative Media & General Manager, Inside Wire: Colorado Prison Radio

    Ryan Conarro is an interdisciplinary artist and media producer who creates and facilitates multi-platform story-sharing experiences, from live theatrical events, to audio installations and podcasts, to community story websites. He cultivates non-hierarchical processes in a range of rural and urban communities, with particular focus on working to amplify voices and stories that have been silenced by racial and cultural hegemony. His practice includes documentary performance, creative placemaking and civic engagement, and devising original work. Ryan served most recently as visiting teaching assistant professor at the University of Denver Department of Theatre. Before that, he spent 6 years as creative producer and community projects associate at Ping Chong + Company in New York. His recent original performance works include "Bad Husband//\\Bad Homo" (2020) and "Saints of Failure" (2019), both of which premiered at the Dixon Place HOT! Festival of Queer Culture. Ryan's experience in correctional settings includes facilitating workshops for residents of the Nome Youth Facility and presenting his original adaptation, "Arctic Magic Flute," at the Anvil Mountain Correctional Center. His work has been recognized with a Brooklyn Arts Council grant; TCG's Leadership U One-on-One Fellowship; Rasmuson Foundation Individual Artist Award; Juneau School District's Champions of Change Award; three Alaska Broadcaster's Association Goldie Awards, for his work as Public Affairs Director at KNOM Radio; three Alaska Humanities Forum Scholar recognitions; and residencies at University Settlement Performance Project, the Orchard Project, the JACC Gallery, the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art and the University of North Georgia. Originally from north Georgia, Ryan grew up an Army brat. His parents are Virginia and Patrick Conarro. He earned a BFA in drama and English at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts and an MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts at Goddard College. For more, please visit Ryan’s website.

  • Lilly Stannard – Assistant Director of Programming

    Assistant Director of Programming

    Lilly Stannard is an interdisciplinary artist, educator and artist-researcher interested in the transformative nature of the arts in various settings. Lilly has worked as an arts administrator and teaching artist within a range of schools and companies, some of which include Spellbound Theatre, America Reads, Ramapo for Children, Brooklyn Heights Synagogue Preschool, and the Verbatim Performance Lab where she developed engaging arts-based curricula for diverse populations. She received a degree from New York University’s Educational Theatre department where she studied applied theatre, community development and social intervention. Her writing about artistic transformative justice practices and verbatim theatre work can be found in various publications including Routledge Undergraduate Research Series and the Inquiries Journal.

  • Tess Neel – Program Coordinator & Production Manager

    Program Coordinator & Production Manager

    Tess Neel graduated from the University of Denver with a BA and BS in theatre and business management. As a student at DU, she focused on stage management and production management for various theatre productions. Tess has worked with theatre companies including the Arvada Center Black Box Theatre (Stage Management Intern), The Three Leaches (Stage Manager), Reunion Entertainment LLC (Assistant Stage Manager), Lamont Opera Company (Production Manager), and the Denver Center for the Performing Arts (Stage Manager Apprentice). Her first experience with social change theatre came when she assisted Ashley Hamilton with a DU summer course in 2017 that focused on devising theatre with students in Zanzibar, Tanzania. The program opened her eyes to the idea that theatre can serve as more than just entertainment for participants and audiences alike. She is very excited to help work with and expand this amazing DU PAI program and experience first-hand how theatre and art can be used to help change people’s perspectives, trajectories and lives.

    Full Profile

  • JoyBelle Phelan – Programs Assistant & Managing Editor, The Inside Report Newspaper

    Programs Assistant & Managing Editor, The Inside Report Newspaper

    JoyBelle Phelan is a Colorado native who grew up in Arvada. She was incarcerated twice, for a total of seven years behind the walls, and has also been in community corrections. While inside, she completed Cosmetology, Defy Colorado, the Art of Being Human, the Inside-Out Prison Exchange, Beyond Thinking, and served as a peer education mentor and a 7-Habits core group member. She worked as the pre-release clerk and assisted in the development and implementation of the Re-Entry Unit Program at La Vista Correctional Facility. She was the first woman at La Vista to be published in The Inside Report and has an essay published in the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition’s Go Guide. She is the first fellow named at the Prison Journalism Project.

  • Clare Hammoor – Performance & Pedagogy Consultant

    Performance & Pedagogy Consultant

    Clare Hammoor, PhD, is a collaborative theatre-maker committed to justice and joy with experience teaching, directing and devising in universities, public and private schools, professional theaters and prisons. Clare is fascinated by object-oriented ontologies, playing with things and interdisciplinary collaboration. Clare has taught at New York University and University of Denver among other institutions and given lectures across the U.S. He has led classes and workshops internationally and his writing appears in articles, chapters and journal editorships. While in New York, Clare taught at Blue School and worked with Brooklyn Acting Lab as its director of education. He has directed and devised theatre professionally in New York City and across the United States. Clare's passion for joy and justice has also led him to teach university courses and collaborate with folks who are incarcerated in prisons for the past ten years. Clare is the -performance and pedagogy consultant for the DU Prison Arts Initiative where he started a series of play-based arts workshops for children and their incarcerated parents. He is particularly animated by directing theatre with ensembles inside the prison system as a way of collectively imagining a more just and joyful world. Clare earned a doctorate from NYU where his research focused on the agencies of children and things in play. If you’re looking for a particularly niche conversation starter, his dissertation is titled Theatre of Children: Absurd Agencies in/of the Anthropocene. He also holds a MA in educational theatre from NYU, a BA in theatre and religious studies from Indiana University, and is an ordained interfaith minister through The New Seminary and a certified advanced Integrated Energy Therapy practitioner. Clare is currently studying at Iliff School of Theology where he is working toward his master of divinity.

  • Seth Ready – Communications Associate

    Communications Associate

    Seth Ready was born in Kremmling, Colorado in 1976, eventually moving to Jacksonville Beach, Florida where he was raised by his grandparents. Upon returning to Colorado with his mother in the early 90's, Seth quickly found his way into the system, where he would spend the next fifteen years incarcerated in the CDOC. During that time Seth completed multiple college courses and vocational programs, including a Level 3 Radio Broadcasting certification, as well as economics and algebra classes. He also graduated as a Senior Coordinator in the Crossroads to Freedom Therapeutic Community. Aside from structured classes and programs, he consistently read books and practiced art. In 2003, Mr. Ready’s parents were tragically killed in an auto accident while leaving a visit, which ultimately led to years of struggle following the incident. Seth was released from prison in 2010, marking the beginning of his upward march towards success. He has established himself as a standout Tile Setter amongst his peers, incorporating art and design into his projects. Seth is also a proud and doting dad to three wonderful children and fully credits his new family for his motivation and success.

  • Shannon Sliva – Director of Research

    Director of Research

    Shannon Sliva, PhD, is an assistant professor in the Graduate School of Social Work at the University of Denver, where she conducts national and local research on the impacts of criminal justice policy with an emphasis on innovative justice alternatives. Sliva tracks state-level restorative justice legislation across the U.S., and is currently partnering with Colorado practitioners, policymakers, and advocates to document the impacts of leading-edge restorative justice laws and develop recommendations for policy transfer. Most recently, she was funded by the National Institute of Justice to evaluate the impact of victim offender dialogue on victims of serious, violent crimes in Colorado. Sliva works with other social work researchers on the national Smart Decarceration Grand Challenge, coordinating research and advocacy efforts to promote justice reinvestment.

  • Danielle Littman – Research Assistant

    Research Assistant

    Danielle Maude Littman is a PhD student in the Graduate School of Social Work at the University of Denver. She works as a research assistant with the DU Prison Arts Initiative (and Shannon Sliva, PhD) to research and evaluate impacts of DU PAI programs. Danielle's research explores how places of belonging, connection, and re-storying ("counterspaces") may buffer against the impacts of isolation and trauma, especially for marginalized groups in multiply harsh contexts; she is committed to the integration of artistic and participatory methods in her research. She holds a master's degree in social service administration from the University of Chicago, and a bachelor's degree in theatre and creative writing from Northwestern University.

Our Advisory Board

  • Shannon Sliva

    Advisory Board Member

    Shannon Sliva, PhD, is an assistant professor in the Graduate School of Social Work at the University of Denver, where she conducts national and local research on the impacts of criminal justice policy with an emphasis on innovative justice alternatives. Sliva tracks state-level restorative justice legislation across the U.S., and is currently partnering with Colorado practitioners, policymakers, and advocates to document the impacts of leading-edge restorative justice laws and develop recommendations for policy transfer. Most recently, she was funded by the National Institute of Justice to evaluate the impact of victim offender dialogue on victims of serious, violent crimes in Colorado. Sliva works with other social work researchers on the national Smart Decarceration Grand Challenge, coordinating research and advocacy efforts to promote justice reinvestment.

  • Kristen Nelson

    Advisory Board Member

    Kristen Nelson is a Denver-based criminal defense attorney whose areas of interest and expertise include capital punishment, life without parole and other excessive sentences. She is currently the director of the Powell Project, a philanthropically-funded national capital trial consulting project that works alongside defense teams representing individuals facing the death penalty to provide resources and assistance in order to achieve non-death resolutions to cases. Previously, Kristen served for seven years as a deputy state public defender on the Complex Litigation Team for the Office of the Colorado State Public Defender in Denver, which represents indigent clients at the trial level in complex felony cases, including those in which the State is considering or has declared it is seeking the death penalty. She also spent four years as a staff attorney at the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama, representing individuals on death row in various stages of the appellate process. Kristen began her indigent defense career as a trial attorney at the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia following a clerkship with U.S. District Judge Myron H. Thompson in the Middle District of Alabama. She is a 2004 graduate of Harvard Law School.

  • Jeffrey Lin

    Advisory Board Member

    Associate Professor Jeffrey Lin, PhD, studies crime and punishment in the United States, focusing on the complex interactions between institutions and individuals in the criminal justice system. In particular, Lin is interested in the ways that criminal outcomes are impacted by systemic arrangements of policy and practice. He has examined these dynamics among juvenile offenders, parolees, and sex offenders, and through analyses of media coverage of serious crime and the effects of large-scale changes to state correctional policies. He typically uses quantitative and comparative methods in his research.

    Lin received his PhD in sociology from New York University in 2005. His dissertation research explored court decisions to incarcerate juvenile offenders in New York City, as well as the impact of incarceration on the criminal behaviors of these young offenders. After completing his dissertation, Lin served as a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Irvine, where he studied issues related to the reform of California's adult prison and parole systems. Since coming to DU, he has continued to research correctional reform in California. He has also been working with the State of Colorado to assess the effectiveness of new strategies of supervising offenders in the community, and he has studied the management of sex offenders in Colorado, assessing the utility of laws designed to control their continued offending.

    Full Profile

  • Libby Catchings

    Advisory Board Member

    Libby Catchings is a teaching assistant professor in the University Writing Program, a community writing facilitator at the St. Francis Center for the homeless, and DU PAI affiliate writing faculty in Colorado corrections facilities. Working at the intersection of rhetoric, critical prison studies and theories of the public sphere, her research examines the truth-telling practices and hip-hop poetics of juvenile detainees, somatic metaphor in prison-based literacy scholarship, and the procedural rhetorics of student craft/DIY practices. She has previously worked as a prison literacy coordinator for the Fresno Center for Nonviolence, a co-editor for California Prison Focus, and a program evaluator/writing facilitator for The Beat Within (a workshop-to-publication program in juvenile detention facilities). Having studied theories of slavery and incarceration with Angela Y. Davis, Libby received her PhD at the University of California, Irvine, and has served as a writing consultant at the California Institute of Technology.

  • Jessica Garrett

    Advisory Board Member

    A Denver native, Jessica attended the University of Colorado before moving to Chicago, and eventually the East Coast to pursue the arts. In 2007, she moved to Baltimore with a team of other CU folks and co-founded Single Carrot Theatre, Baltimore's award-winningest ensemble theatre. After nearly 10 years with SCT, Jessica is now the director of culture and community for Allovue, a software company pioneering edfintech and changing the game in school finance. As a comedian, Jessica has opened for well-known acts Michael Ian Black, Joe Pera, Brooks Wheelan and Rhea Butcher and performed at the Women in Comedy Festival in the UK. She can also be seen in Wham City’s live melodramas The Cry of Mann and The Call of Warr. Also a writer, Jessica’s work has been commissioned by the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Associated Jewish Charities, and her essays have been picked up by Human Parts and Bmore Art. She still participates in the theatre community by teaching and directing in schools and prisons and serving on the board of directors for three theatre companies. She lives in beautiful Baltimore City, Maryland.

  • Jamiylah Nelson

    Advisory Board Member

    Jamiylah Nelson was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and moved to Denver, Colorado, when she was nine years old. Jamiylah was incarcerated for fourteen years in the state of Colorado while serving a life-without-parole sentence, which was overturned in 2020. While incarcerated, Jamiylah became a master dog trainer and also helped to facilitate the Mom and Kids Back-to-School and Christmas events. Jamiylah also served as a DU Prison Arts Initiative (DU PAI) group leader. Jamiylah performed as a leading role in DU PAI's production of A Christmas Carol, which had performances at Denver Women's Correctional Facility and went on a historical tour to the Newman Center for the Performing Arts at DU in December 2019. Jamiylah now acts as an Advisory Board member to DU PAI and is also on staff as an administrative associate. Jamiylah is passionate about serving and advocating for her community, specifically the incarcerated community, and is grateful to share her story as much as possible.

  • Eric Davis

    Advisory Board Member

    Eric Davis grew up skiing and roaming the mountains around Idaho Springs, Colorado. But he longed for a life in the shining city down the hill—Denver. By the time he was eighteen years old, he had not only lived in Denver, but he had also found a way to make choices that altered the lives of countless people. For the next thirty-four years he was incarcerated in the Colorado Department of Corrections. During those three decades Eric made a concerted effort to become a man of integrity, who looked to affect the world in positive ways. He was a member of the Shape Up program at the Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility and the Territorial Correctional Facility. This program brought teenagers into the facilities to spend time with the men of Shape Up who offered advice to these younger men heading down the wrong path in life—a path similar to the one the men of Shape Up had taken. Rather than continuing to engage in more destructive behavior while inside, Eric constantly sought out productive, meaningful programming and activities. Then in 2019, DU PAI found him. While working on the Fremont Correctional Facility’s Pens & Paradigms newsletter, he and that team were approached by DU PAI and CDOC with the idea of creating a newspaper written and produced by men and women in CDOC. With that, The Inside Report was born, and Eric was officially a part of the DU PAI family. In February of 2021, Eric was granted early parole by Governor Polis following Eric’s participation in the Juveniles Convicted as Adults Program. DU PAI wrapped their arms around Eric as he reentered the community he had abandoned so long ago, and he is now officially an employee of DU PAI. Eric hopes to work every day to change the world with his new family and all who have supported and encouraged him for so many years.