I received an email from my supervisor at the Baltimore City Detention Center updating me on my students’ progress since I returned home to Canada for summer two months ago. He said,
“I wanted to let you know that even with all the comings and goings of guys on the tier, the artwork on the walls of the E-2 dayroom has been respected. A small piece of brown paper was torn off the “Ideal City”, but that is the only damage I can find to any of the work. This is a small, but remarkable thing.
Additionally, the men, many of whom haven’t had a chance to meet the 2 of you and be part of your classes yet, got together their own materials and collaborated on a collage that also hangs in the dayroom where residents can continue to add to it. This, too, is pretty amazing.”
This time last year the walls of the day room in the psych ward were completely bare. There was no art program and barely any services offered to the inmates. This time last year I was busily packing my bags and planning my move to Baltimore for my first year of college.
I remember sheepishly walking through the corridors of what I would later discover is the oldest functioning prison in the United States. I was petrified my students would realize I had no idea what I was doing. Even worse, I was scared they would see me as an entitled and ignorant white girl playing teacher.
Now, in the summer after my freshman year, I feel proud of the work that my partner and I have done and anxious to continue the program. There is so much more work that needs to be done. I feel that the more work I do, the more I realize I am working within a system that will always challenge me. I worry that the ‘dent’ I am able to make will always be small.
However, nothing in my life has ever felt as good as coming home from our sessions in the BCDC. I am exhausted, humbled and amazed by the work that comes out of men who live in inhumane conditions. They have taught me both how to be a professional and how to engage in a personal very personal way.
In August I will start my second year of teaching. I may move to the youth or women’s section of the prison, nothing has been decided yet. Ideally, my partner and I will be able to generate enough interest in the program and find more interns to run similar art classes. It is my goal to organize a team of students to teach art in the BCDC. For now, this has been an extraordinary beginning.