Images from Behind Prison Walls offers a rare opportunity to see artwork from incarcerated men and women

18 Jun

Contributed by Rehabilitation Through The Arts

 

Ossining, NY, June 13 2018 – Images from Behind Prison Walls is an exhibit of more than 60 pieces of artwork from men and women incarcerated in five maximum and medium security prisons, including Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, the only maximum-security prison for women in New York State, that will be on display at the Ossining Public Library Art Gallery throughout the month of July.

All the artwork has been created by prisoner members of RTA – Rehabilitation Through The Arts, a non-profit organization operating in the prison system over twenty-two years. Because of their long-standing and positive relationship with NYS Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, RTA received approval to exhibit and sell the artwork.

A public Gallery Reception will be held in the Ossining Public Library Art Gallery on Saturday, July 14 from 3:00 to 5:00 pm and will feature refreshments and the opportunity to talk with formerly incarcerated RTA artists including Jeffrey Clemente and Amaury Bonilla.

Jeffrey Clemente, who was a member of RTA while serving seven years at Sing Sing Correctional Facility, said, “When I got involved with RTA it expanded my imaginative mind about art and took me to another creative space. It was like I was able to express myself in this creative environment without any judgment…art is really the platform that allowed me to express myself.”

Amaury Bonilla served 10 years at Sing Sing. About the Ossining exhibit, he comments, “Society only looks at people convicted of a crime as criminals and that’s all they know, when it’s not reality – prisoners are still human beings who have different talents and skills, and through this exhibit, visitors will gain awareness that we’re not just a number; we’re human beings able to express ourselves in numerous ways.”

RTA is partnering with the Ossining Public Library (OPL), the Ossining Arts Council (OAC) and the Sing Sing Prison Museum (SSPM) to make this important exhibit available to the public. These three Ossining-based nonprofits share RTA’s belief in the transformative power of the arts to change lives and build communities. By providing the space, expertise and historical context for the artwork, the OPL, OAC, and SSPM aim to enhance RTA’s work in telling the stories of incarcerated people and how they benefit through the healing power of art in all its forms.

Rehabilitation Through The Arts uses the creative arts of theatre, dance, visual art, creative writing, and music to transform lives. Its curriculum develops and expands critical life skills for the more than 200 incarcerated men and women they serve. Two evidenced-based and published studies have proven the arts curriculum RTA delivers is effective in changing discipline records and is a catalyst for learning. RTA prisoner members do not return to prison.  While the national recidivism (return to prison) rate is more than 50%, RTA’s recidivism is less than 7%.

The Ossining Public Library (OPL) is located at 53 Croton Avenue. For more information visit www.ossininglibrary.org, or call 914-941-2416.  For information on RTA, visit www.rta-arts.org, email to info@rta-arts.org or call 914-232-7566.

All I see is freedom

All I See is Freedom by John McKeever

 

Magical Garden

Magical Garden by Hector Rodriguez Green Haven CF

 

All Color Matter #1

All Color Matter #1 by George Tucker Sing Sing CF

 

Contacts: Barbara Branagan-Mitchell 860-210-0149; Jackie Kunhardt 860-271-1694

About the Ossining Public Library

The Ossining Public Library is a School District Public Library chartered by the State of New York to serve all residents of the Ossining School District. As a member of the Westchester Library System, it also provides services to a larger community. The Ossining Public Library enriches, connects, and inspires our community. For more information, visit www.ossininglibrary.org.

About the Ossining Arts Council

The Ossining Arts Council (OAC) is a not-for-profit volunteer organization devoted to demonstrating that art, in all its forms, is an important, vital and affirming force—both in the life of a community and in the life of each individual it touches. OAC helpsits artist members and promotes their work through OAC hosted events, use of its physical Gallery Space in the OAC Steamer Firehouse, a dedicated artist profile and showcase through its Online Galleries and various other channels. OAC offers a social and creative hub, where like-minded people can meet, share ideas and foster new projects and collaborations. For more information, visit www.ossiningartscouncil.org.

About The Sing Sing Prison Museum

Sing Sing Correctional Facility is a working maximum-security prison where the theories and realities of criminal punishment and rehabilitation have played out for almost 200 years. It’s a place with many stories to tell from many sides. Housed just outside the prison walls, the new Sing Sing Prison Museum will unlock the history of this world-famous institution through exhibits, artifacts and experiences. At the same time, the museum aims to take center stage in the urgent national conversation about social justice and incarceration. In illuminating these issues, in telling these stories, Sing Sing Prison Museum will tell us much about ourselves. For more information, visit www.singsingprisonmuseum.org.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sketches from Inside

8 Jun

insideoutINSIDE | OUT

Sketches from Inside

In January of this year, we started a Prison Arts Pilot Program here at Avery Mitchell Correctional Institution (AMCI) in Spruce Pine, North Carolina. We set out to do a series of 9 drawing classes with 15 incarcerated men each of whom are serving sentences from a few years to life. Our original intention was to solely focus on drawing exercises as many of the men were most interested in learning skills and art terms that others are able to learn in school. Over the weeks though, our drawing exercises turned into communal teaching opportunities in which all participants taught each other and we all learned to grow together as artists.

Our classes are now comprised of technique sharing, looking at work of artists both inside and outside the prison walls, and talking about the purpose and benefit of making art. We meet weekly to laugh, talk, and draw together and our sessions last just an hour and a half. In May, we will begin round two of our program and we are excited to bring in guest artists, look at more artwork, and to keep sharing the talents of these men.

More than anything, the men at AMCI would like you to know that they have talent, heart, and soul and do not want to be forgotten.

This program is generously funded and supported by the Penland School of Crafts Community Collaboration Program. Special thanks to Stacey Lane for her tireless work.

Thank you to Angela Lamm, Dawn McMahan, and Jason Penland at the Avery Mitchell Correctional Institution, and Aaron Buchanan at Fox & the Fig.

With sincere thanks to the 12 artists in this show, we are so happy to be working with you.

Daniel T Beck, Sarah Rose Lejeune, and Rachel Meginnes

About AMCI:

The Avery Mitchell Correctional Institution currently has 846 occupied beds, and has a capacity for 856. They have 95 men incarcerated there with life sentences, and 53 that have been “promoted” to minimum custody, who will soon be sent to a lower security facility that has more opportunity for work release and transitional programming. The men incarcerated at AMCI are between the ages of 22 and 73. This facility is classified as medium custody, although many of the men would describe it as run closer to that of a maximum unit, with rules enforced tightly across the board. The men currently participating in this prison arts program are predominantly active artists, most of whom hold long sentences. Very few of these men were practicing artists on the outside, their interest in making predominantly began as therapy and hobby once incarcerated. They take their craft very seriously, although only two of the program participants have had minimal formal training. These men teach and share knowledge and skills with great compassion, their artwork a common thread that builds community and commonality.

reception (11 of 20)

Angela Lamm is a Correctional Case Manager and Volunteer Coordinator at the Avery Mitchell Correctional Institution. She has worked tirelessly with us to make this program a reality.

Inside Out opening reception

The Inside Out exhibition included written statements by many of the artists, and a notebook for viewers to record their thoughts and feelings about the work. We were able to share these responses with the artists, opening up dialogue between those inside and outside the prison walls.

The artists:

Ted Brason

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Nick Tucci-Caselli

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Robert Reid

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Bobby Autry

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David Jones

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Antonio Trejo

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David Bauguess

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Eric Hughes

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Juan Santiago

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Michael Lewis

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Michael Sheets

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Tyvon Gabriel

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As instructors we continue to grow alongside the students, always challenged by and learning from class conversations. This initial pilot program is continuing. Moving into summer we are expanding the structure of the course to include a mixture of slide lectures, open studio time, prompts and exercises, and a series of guest instructors. The Inside Out exhibition currently on display at Fox and Fig in Spruce Pine, NC has plans to travel to Boone, NC, and potentially additional venues, with additional exhibitions slated to culminate future course segments.

 

Prison Education and the Freedom to Create Art

18 May
Guest post contributed by Shyla Maskell, who is being released from Suffolk County House of Correction today. 

 

Many people rightly believe prison education reduces the recidivism rate and gives post release job opportunities. But what they don’t realize is that prison education, and specifically art, does much more than that.

I am currently being held in Suffolk County House of Correction, and if it were not for art and creative writing classes, I would be just another statistic, another face in a lineup of women waiting to get a plastic tray of food. I would be another woman allowing time to pass with meaningless card games, pointless anxiety-filled thoughts of what ifs and I wishes. I would believe all the negative things correctional officers think of me. I would fall into the pit of depression and regret.

Another truth is that many people look at the average inmate through a clouded lens. They believe us to be angry and illiterate, and that we behave like animals. But we are just men and women with poor judgment, who found comfort with the wrong crowd. Many of us, like me, found confidence through substances or other people. And unfortunately for some, those choices have led to a life behind hard, solid, brick walls laced with razor wire, ever reminding us that we are society’s example of a mistake personified.

That is why many believe that prison education and art programs are wasted on inmates like me. They would rather look at me as inmate #1800029, another blurred face behind a tinted window, as someone who has “made my bed and now must lie in it”. I do not deny that I have made wrong choices, that I have in fact crossed the politically correct line. But my past is irrelevant. It is not up to politicians and the general public to decide whether or not I deserve an education, and the possibility to express myself through art. Education is a human right and art is the freedom with which one can use the mind, body, and soul regardless of where he or she is being housed.

Jesus, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela have all been imprisoned, and yet upon release, became heroes of social change. They utilized their time behind the walls to read, to meditate, and to learn. Van Gogh was in a prison of his mind. He found solace within his beautiful art. It does not matter if we are released tomorrow, next year, or the day we finally die. One’s life has value when we utilize our time to better ourselves in spite of our circumstance.

I escape the mundane life of incarceration the moment I walk into a classroom. I sit down focused and ready to interpret a Franz Wright poem, find the beauty in a still life photograph, or to turn my thoughts into paintings. In a classroom we are all students, our past no longer defines us. I no longer see the woman beside me for the crimes she has committed. I can hear her passion. I can feel her truth. I can see her pain. The classroom is a place where judgments are left at the door. The callused exterior that has become me softens at the sight of the woman next to me striving to create the same beauty I am after. To see a fellow inmate become a fellow classmate changes the relationship. It softens the hardened heart. And to use the heart one must first use the mind.

Art and education break through many barriers. They not only reduce recidivism, they give incarcerated women and men the opportunity to find themselves in spite of what prison has told them who they are. The truth is some will spend the rest of their lives behind a barred window, sleeping on a metal slab with a toilet just within their reach and a door that locks behind them. But art in every form offers more than just a better life outside of prison confinement. While confined, I no longer wish to sit at a metal table and play cards all day. I look forward to walking into my classroom with papers I’ve worked on for hours. I look forward to seeing the progress I’ve made on my painting, and to the next piece of art I’ll create. I no longer wish to engage in the latest controversy on the unit, for fear of missing my next class.

I am gratified by the challenges offered by education and creating something new each day. I am pleased with the change I feel I have made inside. I can look out my barred window and see the sky as a pastel painting. I can turn my past and the pain I feel into a poem, story or memoir. The classes allow me to become the woman I lost somewhere along the way. I am no longer alone in a place where I’m shut out from the world. Not only does my potential matter, in the classroom my feelings matter. Thanks to this, I am able to write this essay and know my opinion matters. My life matters.

I matter.