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Washington Corrections Center Inmates’ Art Draws Praise From Faculty, Community

February 19, 2016

By Rachel Friederich

Department of Corrections

Bell, pointing and talking about a painting to the art projects class (Tim Kelly , DOC Communications) See photo gallery...

OLYMPIA – A dozen inmates from the Washington Corrections Center (WCC) have their art work on display at The Evergreen State College (TESC) as part of the “Prison Obscura” exhibition that runs through March 2.

The inmates, who belong to the prison’s “Art Spirit” class, have paintings, quilts, drawings, origami and beaded pieces in the exhibit. One of the inmates, whose paintings are in the exhibit, had one of his pieces chosen to be featured on promotional advertisements in the city of Auburn’s upcoming spring Arts Walk, set for May 13.

The exhibit has received praise from faculty members, students and the public, according to Jules Unsel, who teaches US history at the college. She says the people who are incarcerated are often dismissed by society and their artwork is a reminder of the intricacy of human spirit.

“Looking at their (inmates’) artwork and the context of these conversations one thing that is important to understand is the depth and complexity of people,” Unsel said.

WCC Chaplain Greg Garringer and prison volunteer Rebecca Bell recently met with five faculty members at TESC to discuss their interactions with inmates whose art is currently on display at the college’s “Prison Obscura” exhibit.

Bell, a graduate student from the college, volunteers at the prison and works with the inmates inside the prison’s “Art Spirit” class. She says art has many therapeutic effects on the inmates. In addition to creative expression, art improves inmates’ cognitive abilities as well as verbal skills by encouraging them to talk to each other and staff members. But perhaps the most significant impact art has on inmates is the ability to see themselves as more than just someone who has committed a crime.

“They want to be someone. They want to be part of the community,” Bell said. “They’re breaking the stereotype, dispelling their own self-hatred. I want them to see the better of themselves and be able to break the barriers of men who are incarcerated.”

Garringer, who helped coordinate the selection of art for the exhibit, said the inmates actually approached prison staff to see if they could submit their art for public viewing. Garringer said being able to share their art with the community has helped them on the path to reintegration.

“They want to be seen as human beings,” Garringer said. “If seen as human beings, it is easier for them to get back into society. They can be proud of the things they do, feel worthy.”

WCC is the only Washington State Department of Corrections prison whose inmates have art in the exhibit. In addition to the WCC inmate art, the exhibit also has artwork made by youths in the Gateways for Incarcerated Youth program at the Green Hill School in Chehalis.