The lives of California inmates housed in the private La Palma Correctional Facility are being transformed by the power of art.
Walk inside a multipurpose room in the rural Arizona prison and the four walls burst with colorful murals of California scenes like Hollywood movie reels, Cesar Chavez, skyscrapers, surf and Highway I-5 – all painted by Californians, reports the Cronkite News
When asked why they made images of California, the inmates’ responses were all from the heart and were very simple, “We started from the bottom, from Southern California to Northern California, and tried to bring a little bit of home out here.”
Movies and media portray prison as a place where a prisoner is focused on survival and vigilance rather than self-expression. The truth of the matter is that prisoners have more free time than people outside.
This amount of free time often encourages inmates to work on talents that are both innate and newly discovered. Because of this, inmates openly talk about their art and talents as frequently as they talk about Arizona.
For instance, when Andrew Valencia was asked about what painting meant to him, Valencia said, “I have reached some of my dreams…because I have always wanted to teach an art class, and I was able to do that.”
This statement shows that when inmates are allowed the opportunity to express themselves through art, they learn more about themselves through a deeper connection with their talent. Additionally, their talents help them to become more productive members of society.
Artwork provides an outlet for self-expression for inmates who otherwise can’t find a release of pent-up energy. This pent-up energy often turns to violence and other rule breaking when left without direction or positive influence.
Artwork in prison provides that positive influence. It allows inmates who are closed off from the rest of the world to express themselves. It allows the creation of new worlds within their own minds, which can liberate them from the prison in which they find themselves.
This account reflects the importance of being creative: even when in darkness and in a dehumanizing place, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel.