Actor Tim Robbins has been teaching acting classes to inmates in a Norco, California prison. According to CBS News, the "Shawshank Redemption" star said that the acting exercises provide an opportunity for prisoners to open their imagination and discover new ways of looking at their world.

"It creates this place, particularly important in prison," he said, "where people can step outside of what's expected of them and try to explore new emotions and create new realities, create new truths for themselves."

Robbins and a group of fellow performers founded "The Actors' Gang" in 1981, an education and outreach-oriented nonprofit theater group dedicated to bringing the experience of producing and experiencing live theater to as diverse a group of people as possible, including prisoners and other underserved communities.

CBS asked Robbins what he says to critics who believe that "prison isn't supposed to be a good time."

"It's not a good time," Robbins said. "It's tough work they're doing. What we're asking them to do, no one has asked them to do before."

In addition to looking inward at hitherto unexplored emotions and memories, the prisoners don makeup for performances and other things they thought they'd never do.

"A lot of people are afraid to show that they can be sad," said an inmate named Yoshi. "Or that they could be happy. They gotta have this mad mug all the time."

Robbins was the screenwriter and director of "Dead Man Walking," the 1995 film about death row inmates that won Robbins' former partner Susan Sarandon an Oscar for her portrayal of Catholic nun and anti-death-penalty activist Sister Helen Prejean.

Watch video about this story, embedded below via CBS: