Prisoner Art

As I walked through the Light from the Inside: Art From Illinois Prisons located within the Chicago Cultural Center, I couldn’t help being amazed by the creativity of the prisoners locked up within Illinois.  Not only would the artwork be phenomenal had someone else created it, but what really blew me away was the art supplies, or lack thereof, used to create the artwork.  Most inmates only have access to the inside part of the pen, the part that holds the ink.  Even with this limited tool, the artists still manage to do amazing shading and contrast.  The “paper” used is legal sized envelopes cut open to allow for more space, or file folders laid flat.  Inmates opting to use pieces of their bedsheets as canvas or bars of soap to make carvings are often written up for destruction of state property.  Color from candies and other foods is used to enhance the pictures as no other art supplies are allowed.  I don’t understand why, IDOC wouldn’t want to take advantage of this possible program to keep inmates entertained.  Why should inmates only be allowed to take part in art within their cells?  If we allowed inmates to have the proper supplies, to an extent, and a teacher to provide guidance for those wanting it, I think this would be a great program to have within prisons.  It would help the prisoners pass the time and provide them with a healthy activity that could be transfered to the outside world.  What do you guys think?


3 Responses

  1. I completely agree.Logically,it makes little sense why they wouldn’t want to encourage such programs,that not only develop useful skills,but can also be a form of rehabilitation.Of course the simple excuse to why they wouldn’t want to do it is-as always-lack of funding.It is hard to believe,though,that minimal,basic supplies can cost that much of a fortune.The prisoners are doing wonders with the little they have now,it is beyond my imagination what they would be capable of if granted a little bit extra.
    I just think that, the reason why they have limitted these programs is more to do with,convinience.It is easier for the guards-“it is safer” if they have the prisoners in their cells, they don’t have to worry about anyone stabbing themselves with a paint-brush, and if they have the authority to limit all these, what’s stopping them? Nothing.Not to mention that it looks good for “tough on crime” policies.

  2. I also agree. The art work was absolutely amazing. I couldn’t believe that the colors in some of the paintings were from skittles and m&ms.
    I think it would be great to have art programs for the prisoners, but also agree that it probably won’t happen because of funding and safety reasons. If prisoners were given proper supplies the art work they would produce would be extraordinary. For those prisoners that will get out one day it would be a great skill to have; if they have problems finding a job they could try to sell some of their work.

  3. I agree with all of you. And, I also read some letters from people whose work mysteriously did not make it into the exhibit. I wonder what their work would have looked like.
    Anyway, despite the lack of funding for instruction and art supplies, many inmates’ works made it into the exhibit. I was surprised, too, like all of you at the variety of mediums that were used to make the artwork. Few artists today are that resourceful.
    It is really unfortunate that this kind of creativity, whether through art, or writing is not encouraged more often.
    Speaking of artwork from prisoners, I watched a video on Monday about John Wayne Gacy, the famous serial killer from right here Illinois. He too, was an artist, and actually sold some of his pieces.

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