Togetherness in Unlikely Places

Yesterday, our newest intern, Michael, took the reigns and planned a typography lesson for our class at the detention center. Every week it seems like we have more and more students.

Last week’s journal assignment had to do with the ways art can transform spaces and the people in them. We had one new member on our tier; he had just been transferred from general population. He told us about how reserved he felt arriving in the psych. ward, but when he saw the art on the common room walls and read the “Something You Don’t Know About Me” posters he began to feel like this was a much healthier community than the one he had just come from.

I know Dr. Mac has been facilitating group workshops a few times a week and really stressing how important it is that the guys be supportive of one another. This would be a tall order in any other part of the prison. We are very lucky to be in a small corner of the facility. In the rest of the jail, E Section is famous for being ‘luxurious’ in comparison. Our students have more time outside their cells, board games in the common room, art and yoga classes… but along with those privileges comes the expectation that they will be a part of a more intentional community. They need to be for each other and for healthy rehabilitation.

Since the beginning of the year I have noticed an increasing willingness to interact with one another. One student even suggested we play “Secret Santa” before the holidays. He was excited about the idea of exchanging cards and positive messages with the other guys on the tier.

For Michael’s lesson we passed out very plain printouts of words like “community” and “creativity.” The assignment was to transform the words so that it visually responded to its meaning. There was talk of typography and the symbolism of color and imagery. We opened a brand new pack of crayons (thanks to the grant we just won!) and got down to work. The results were bright and exciting interpretations of all the words.

Like always, we ended class in a circle and talked about the activity. The energy in the room after we make art is the reason I keep coming back. Every so often I will stand back and realize how surreal this place is. I think that real magic happens when art is made is unlikely places, but more importantly I think everyone involved is confronted with their common humanness. I am so grateful to these men for letting us in to their lives and for being so willing to make art with us.

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