I went to prison last Wednesday, and it was great.
No, I didn’t get sent up the river for doing something naughty. (They’ll never catch me! Mua-ha-ha.) I attended the inmate art show at Stafford Creek Corrections Center.
First off, I’d like to thank Victoria Gamroth and the other folks at the prison who worked with me to allow me to take photos to document the event. It was quite a process because of security concerns, and I’m grateful for their help and their trust. (Please note that I can only show selected faces and refer to the inmate artists by first name here, for the same reasons.)
I’m so glad I had the opportunity to attend this show! In the two hours I was there on Wednesday, I chatted with about 30 men who had varying degrees of talent and skill. Many had just learned their crafts since entering Stafford Creek; a few had at least dabbled long before that, and now are using their time to hone their skills.
Most were happy to have the opportunity to discuss their work, and appreciative of all questions and comments. I very much enjoyed speaking with them as artists rather than as inmates.
Some of the work on display was awe-inspiring, while others showed great potential. Some of it could easily have been displayed and sold alongside other local artists’ works I enjoyed at GHC’s Fall Art Gala, in my opinion.
A few told me they sold their artwork online and sent the money to their families to help support them. Some create art specifically for their loved ones to have. A couple of them spoke excitedly about creating pieces for charitable organizations, such as Care for Kids and Beyond Survival. Still others told me they simply liked having an activity to keep them “out of trouble” while they were at Stafford Creek.
I lost track of the sheer number of different types of art. I saw stunning two-dimensional pieces — some on scrap paper, some on canvas — made with pencil (regular and colored), ink, different types of paints, and even coffee and juice. I saw leatherwork, metalwork, woodwork, beadwork and more. And in the background, five inmates played a steady stream of cool jazz — yet another art form.
There are several musical groups within the population, overseen by the prison’s Diversity Group. They play at various events on-site using instruments that are either donated or purchased using funds raised by the inmates.
“These guys practice strictly jazz,” Victoria told me, adding that they’d had just two weeks to prepare for the art show. “We also have two rock bands, a veterans band and a Hispanic band.”
Tomas, a painter, also told me about the prison’s Liberation Arts Class, held on Sundays, in which highly skilled inmates share their expertise with others interested in their crafts. Several of the artists present there Wednesday were regular participants. I might have to check one of those out sometime, with permission.
I wasn’t the only local art lover there, by a long shot. The joint was packed — it was difficult to maneuver through the crowd, and all the noise made it hard to follow conversations with people standing right next to me.
Aberdeen graphic artist Debbi Jensen called the event “phenomenal.”
“Each inmate was so polite and thanked me for coming to their show,” she said, “and the band was outstanding as well. Just a stellar art show.”
Doug Orr and David Rodriguez, owners of the Aberdeen Art Gallery, also were among the visitors. They attended the inaugural event last year, too.
“One can see that it’s not only about having the time to focus solely on their art,” David told me. “It was also a wonderful experience to see the sheer talent and skills evident in each inmate’s distinctive art style and creations.”
Doug is actually trying to arrange a downtown art display in early 2020. He said he’s got buy-in from a downtown building owner and the folks at the prison, and “now it’s all about the logistics. We have to deal with rules for inmates, rules for visitors, rules about selling inmate art and a bunch more stuff. But I believe it’s all doable and within reach,” he said.
“There are a bunch of really advanced artists there with great art careers waiting for them on their release,” Doug added. “I’m hoping that sales from the downtown exhibit will generate money to buy art supplies so that they can continue to create their art.”
Kat Bryant is lifestyle editor of The Daily World and editor of Washington Coast Magazine. Reach her at email@example.com.