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Art Illustrates Positive Change at Airway Heights

April 7, 2017

By Tim Kelly

DOC Communications

(Tim Kelly, DOC Communications)

See the Photo Gallery

One of the most interesting art galleries you will find is at a location that can't be visited easily – the walls of the Senior Living K-Unit at Airway Heights Corrections Center (AHCC) near Spokane.

Paintings and murals cover much of the two tiers in both pods of the K-Unit. Producing the art gives incarcerated men an activity that brings them out of their cells and teaches a new skill. The meaningful work promotes facility safety by providing individuals opportunities for self-improvement, promoting the adoption of a strong work ethic, and reducing inmate idleness.

"The demeanor of the guys has been great. It's a very low violence unit," says Airway Heights Superintendent James Key. "What's amazing is a lot of those drawings are done free hand."

Inmate Mark Smith moved into K-Unit over two years ago and did not have any painting experience. Then he found an art instruction book while digging through the library that inspired him to learn. Now, you can't walk through K-Unit without seeing Smith's artwork.

"People walking by have said it's so nice to be able to have [art] in the unit and not just plain walls," says Smith. "It's a peaceful thing, and people have really enjoyed it."

The art doesn't simply serve to brighten up the building. The residents are provided with a new and productive talent.

"It's going to help me when I get out. I'm going to continue to do art when I'm released in a couple years," Smith says. "It's actually been a very positive thing to help me change into a better person."