Cellblock Visions - prison art in america
prison art in america - Phyllis Kornfield
 

Criminal Justice and the Arts, cont.

Adrienne Rich, Los Angeles Times Book Section
"And what about art? Mistrusted, adored, pietized, condemned, dismissed as entertainment, auctioned at Southeby’s, purchased by investment seeking celebrities, it dies into the "art object" of a thousand museum basements. It’s also reborn hourly in prisons, women’s shelters, small town garages, community college workshops, half-way houses..."

Muriel Rukeyser, American poet and political activist
"Whenever someone picks up a pencil, a wood-burning tool, a tag-sale camera, a whittling knife, a stick of charcoal, whatever lets you know again this deeply instinctual yet self-conscious expressive language, this regenerative process, could help you save your life. If there were no poetry on any day in the world poetry would be invented that day. For there would be an intolerable hunger."

Gordon Parks, Author, photographer, musician, film maker
"In my youth,
violence became my enemy...
Photography, writing, music, and film
are the weapons I use against it."

Peter Money, Journalist, Provincetown Arts
"Free expression of prisoners is a hot topic in California, where I’m living, as it is in many parts of the country. As a society, we are "investing’ more money than ever to construct new prisons. Prison officials and those within the prison industry realize that funding art is a relatively inexpensive way to keep the peace. Many prisoners are finding ‘something to believe in’ - their own version of what Charles Dutton, an ex-con turned star actor, called his ‘self-worth.’ Some will never walk out of prison, but they may pass along their humanity to those who do."

Fortune News, VOLUME XXXIIII NUMBER 3 WINTER 1999 - 2000 published by the Fortune Society
"America is the world’s larget warden. Our prison population has risen by 250% since 1980, due largely to increased arrests for drug-related crimes, mandatory sentencing, and "three strikes" laws. If recent trends continue, one out of every 20 Americans will serve time during their life. The irony of this is that the violent crime rate has fallen about 21% since 1993, according to the National Crime and Victimization Survey. This means that more people are being jailed though fewer crimes are being commited."

A steadily growing counter movement calls for hope rather than hate and artistic expression in place of silent suffering. Participants in this movement see America’s prison system as inhumane, ineffective, and in need of serious reform, and seek, through artistic programs to tap inmate’s creativity and bolster their self-esteem.

But will these programs keep inmates from being re-arrested? A 1983 study estimated that 62.5% of the men and women released that year would once more be arrested for a felony or misdemeanor within 3 years. While the statistics vary from state to state, most show increased rates of recividism due in part to the enactment and enforcement of stricter sentencing policies. Clearly, art programs are a vital component of reducing recividism rates but they cannot succeed without help from other sources.
Kat Wimmer

JoAnne Page, editorial
"With the knowledge that almost everyone in prison is going to be released, a criminal justice system interested in community safety would begin supporting the changes needed to emerge into the comunity as a constructive citizen even while a person is incarcerated.

The United States is excellent at punishment. Our prisons are getting more and more savage as we allow maxi-max prisons to proliferate and individuals are locked up for 23 hours a day for months or years at a time. We use the death penalty with abandon. On Texas’ death row, prisoners in solitary confinement have recently had their personally purchased craft-making materials taken away, forcing them into even greater idleness and despair as they sit by themselves for years waiting to die.

Jack Cowley, Director of the Prison Fellowship InnerChange Freedom Initiative
Christian based Correctional Institutions, a bold experiment in criminal rehabilitation and former Warden.
"I see the changes in a man when he makes art. He thinks, well, I’ve done something wonderful, and he starts wanting to look nicer, and he says good morning to people."

P. J. Chalapatas, Director of Treatment and Programs, Massachusetts Department of Correction
"The last fifteen years as Director of Treatment and Programs has allowed me to observe inmates functioning in a structured art program. There’s no doubt in my mind that art within a prison environment helps inmates in their rehabilitative needs and their preparation for return to the community. As a prison administrator, the art program assists us in the management of inmates on a daily basis. Art teaches prisoners to relax, to be responsible - it builds organizational skills - they gain a sense of accomplishment within a short period of time, an important experience not otherwise available within the prison setting."


Dennis Smythwicke "Room with a View"
watercolor markers

Bill Toller, Assistant Superintendent of Human Services
"The Hampden County Sheriffs department has supported a visual arts program to our incarcerated men and women in medium security and pre-release facilities. The fruits have been displayed in art shows at the Springfield Public Library and the Ludlow Public Library. We do this to change people’s perspectives of prison inmates. These displays clearly demonstrate the creative and artistic potential of our population as well as the pain of losing one’s freedom, coupled with the challenge of rebuilding lives while in jail and prison. It is clearly and dramatically some of the best artwork I have ever seen and it enriches the lives of staff and inmates alike!"

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Cell Block Visions: Prison Art in America
Email: phylkorn@bcn.net