Ricardo Dominguez said taking part in the Art from the Inside program while he was formerly in Stillwater prison “saved his life.” His art was displayed during the opening night of the project’s latest exhibition at Creators Space on E. 7th Street in St. Paul on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022. (Kristi Belcamino / Pioneer Press)
Art builds confidence nurtures the senses and nourishes the human side of our minds. It helps to connect our physical world with our inner one with a direct avenue of expression. Unlike the spoken word, with rigid structure limited vocabulary and abstract rules, art has none of these inhibitors. How many times have you had a feeling you can’t describe or a series of thoughts you can’t find the words for? It happens to all of us so by using art as a means of expression and communication we all benefit from the medium.
From learning art therapy in my spare-time from Udemy, I have discovered that art is great for your mental health and well-being. By taking time to slow down and take diligent care in a simple activity such as colouring in, the outcome is a relaxed and almost zen state of mind. It makes it much easier to begin to think clearly and address our inner world. So, when people in prison do art, it’s easy to make the connection to mental wellness. Imagine being in prison, I would expect you’d feel all kinds of things from denial to contrition and anger to self-reduction. Any such coping mechanism might help pass the time without too much stress, but the prison of the mind has bars much tighter than those on the outside.
Prisoners often turn to art as a means of passing the time productively, learning new skills, demonstrating character building to their parole board, and as a real source of personal betterment. St Paul in Minnesota has recently unveiled an art exhibition made by over fifty inmates at their two local prisons. Called the Identity Exhibition and sponsored by Art from the Inside, the mission is to give incarcerated people a voice that people will hear. Devoid of judgement and full of personal character, the artists are free to express themselves in ways that speak to everyone.
The Art on the Inside project was started when a guard was killed by an inmate during an incident at Stillwater Prison back in 2018. It was the idea of colleague Antonio Espinoza to begin building bridges and forming trust by championing art in the prison system. By giving to inmates with alternative behaviour and goals to accomplish through art, the rehabilitation and betterment of life-quality element of the project is making genuine progress.
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