Art from Inside the Cell

The nonprofit organization Community Partners in Action (CPA) is holding its annual Prison Arts Show. According to Eastern Connecticut’s website, this exhibit showcases 350 drawings, paintings, sculptures and carpentry projects created by Connecticut’s current or formerly incarcerated inmates. Several pieces of art are made through uncommon materials such as soap, woven paper bags and food packaging.

The Hartford Courant described examples of specific types of art on display including cartoons, abstracts, acrylic splashes, paper models of buildings and gian

“Art provides a universal language that gives voices to individuals and communities and is accessible across social boundaries,” said Prof. Mary Treschitta, a professor in the Art and Design Department at Sacred Heart University.

Prison Arts, which was founded in 1978, is CPA’s and the United States longest-running program of its kind.

According to CPA’s website, the organization’s mission is to “build community by providing services that promote accountability, dignity and restoration for people affected by the criminal justice system.”

The program works directly inside and outside Connecticut prisons as individuals return to the community. Partners include prison staff, community organizations, state agencies, and professional artists as stated on CPA’s website.

An important element of the program is their work with former prisoners, who often when released, come back to continue their work with Prison Arts.

“People face enormous challenges when they re-enter society from prison. Minimizing the stigma and repairing the trauma is essential to a healthy lifestyle outside of prison. Arts can certainly facilitate that successful re-entry,” said Dr. James McCabe, a professor in the criminal justice department at Sacred Heart.

According to CPA’s website, Prison Arts arranges an annual show and an annual alumni show which is called “Out of Prison, Making Art.” CPA has an extensive permanent collection that is displayed in various locations such as schools, libraries, and community centers.

While this year the annual show is being held at Eastern Connecticut State University, other sites for rotating exhibits include the Hartford Community Court, the main offices of the CT Court Support Services Division and the Osborn Correctional Institution visitors waiting room.

The exhibits offer an enlightening view into the world of prison and a deeper understanding of art, artists and art making in general, according to CPA’s website. It allows an opportunity for the artists to be heard, considered and be active members of the community.

“Art helps the prisoners learn how to express themselves in a new way. It establishes their worth and regains a sense of purpose,” said Treschitta.

According to CPA’s website, it changes the lives of those incarcerated and the overall prison environment by encouraging creativity and self-discipline along with improving communication skills and thoughtfulness.

“If we don’t focus on rehabilitating those incarcerated and focusing on why they committed the crime in the first place and give them something to put their thoughts and efforts into then we will just see a revolving door,” said Dr. Analisa Gagnon, a professor in the criminal justice department at Sacred Heart.

Programs like Prison Arts are also located outside of Connecticut.

One example is Arizona State University (ASU), where Gagnon received her doctorate. Under Kevin Wright, associate professor in the criminology department and director of the Center for Correctional Solutions, there have been several art shows for charity organized over the last couple of years according to ASU’s website.

“I would absolutely be a part of a program like this because it helps create connections and allows the prisoners to get involved outside of prison. Just because a person is imprisoned

doesn’t mean they do not deserve opportunities to embrace their feelings through activities,” said sophomore Marketing Chair of the Criminal Justice Club, Victoria Felton.

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