Art works. And so do the prisoners at the Grafton Correctional Institute and Grafton Reintegration Center who spend time on what they would call “a labor of love.”
“Art is a very liberating aspect of my life,” said Joe Peoples, an inmate who shared his story recently via DVD for Kendal at Oberlin residents.
Peoples was scheduled to share his story in person, but couldn’t make it due to a bureaucratic glitch, said Eric Gardenhire, who oversees the prison’s arts and crafts program.
“Prison is a very hostile, dark, stagnant place, but being here I had to find a way to keep my mind open and free,” said Peoples, who has been incarcerated for 11 years due to “some poor decisions and bad mistakes.”
“For me, art has been a vehicle of freedom,” he said.
Less than three years old, the arts and crafts program involves more than 200 men who take classes in drawing, design, painting, woodworking, ceramics — even jewelry making.
Classes accommodate both beginners and advanced learners. Many of the teachers are inmates themselves who find satisfaction not only in creating art but also in sharing their skills with others.
Materials are either paid for by the artists (paints), or found and recycled items such as discarded cardboard. The cardboard is sized, painted, and used as frames, which are also works of art.
“You are inside, but your art work doesn’t have to be,” Gardenhire tells participants.
Their work is on exhibit through April 4 at Kendal at Oberlin’s Friends Gallery.
Gardenhire said creative works can change the people who create them, the people who see them, and sometimes relationships.
Making gifts of their art for the holidays or special occasions is gratifying to many participants. One man heard from his son, with whom he had no contact since his incarceration when the boy was 10 years old. The young man, who is now in his 20s, reconnected with his father after he saw a painting that was sent home.
“I’m just thrilled with what they have done,” said Peggy Kwong Gordon, a Kendal resident and painter. “I think the work is meaningful. You can really feel the expression of confinement and hope. With imprisonment they can express their spirit through art.”
Nina Love, another Kendal resident observed, “A lot of the images seem to express a feeling of confinement or their anger at what has happened, or perhaps at themselves, or at society.”
Gardenhire said that is true for some. However, Peoples’ art work called “Life is a Butterfly” embodies a spirit of hope and redemption as a butterfly readies itself for flight.
He did the piece for his 11-year-old daughter. “I would tell her that life is about stages and phases and that it is important that she enjoy her childhood,” he said.
“You can see how far the creative process reaches outside,” Gardenhire said. “He is reaching his family.”
Catherine Gabe can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @ReporterGabe on Twitter.
“Cages in the World Storm: Old Man, Sick Man, Dead Man, Monk-Nirvana?” by Fred Nelson.
Photos by Catherine Gabe | Oberlin News-Tribune “Life is a Butterfly” by Joe Peoples.
Joe Peoples shares his story with Kendal residents via DVD.