CHICAGO (CBS) — A local theater is working with the Cook County Jail to give former inmates a new outlook on life after they finish serving their time.

Piven Theatre is taking performers from sentences to the stage.

34-year-old Shavodka Jones was released in May after spending four years behind bars for what became an aggravated battery conviction. She says Piven Theatre’s program found her.

sentence to stage Piven Theatre Takes Former Inmates From Sentences To The Stage

She recently performed on a stage in Evanston for the first time.

“When they first came, it was just like we could be free, we could be us and not hide behind these bars,” Jones said.

Piven Theatre’s Program Director, Gillian Hemme, describes the two-year-old program as an effort to build community.

sentences to the stage Piven Theatre Takes Former Inmates From Sentences To The Stage

“We never ask what people are there for. We make a point of not seeking out that information at all so the moments in that space are about connection,” Hemme said.

Hemme says she hopes by doing so, the program helps transcend a cell and lead to not only performances, but also a new approach to life outside.

“After having that experience, that can be motivation to continue to seek out ways to be heard and seen,” said Hemme.

Jones said, “I see myself inspiring others to keep going and get involved.”

Piven Theatre is located at 927 Noyes St, Suite 110 in Evanston.