Custody Art and Art Therapy #healingpowerofart #corrections

“We artists are indestructible; even in a prison, or in a concentration camp, I would be almighty in my own world of art, even if I had to paint my pictures with my wet tongue on the dusty floor of my cell.”

–Pablo Picasso

Bandana Quilt made by young men and women in custody (rival gang members), 2007

Many of the youth I currently work with are involved with the juvenile justice system in one way or another.  I LOVED my time volunteering (then contracting) as the art therapist at Burnaby Youth Custody Centre in 2006-2008.  It started with the “Friday Art Class,” then it turned into the “Friday Art Classes,” then “Monday, Wednesday, Friday” etc etc!  My time there taught me so much of the healing power of art and that there are no bad kids, just bad decisions.  The art created there led to an amazing exhibit at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre.  You can see some images from the exhibit at: CUSTODY ART.  In many ways working in custody with youth was the same as working in an alternative school or at-risk youth program on the Downtown Eastside, except there were fewer distractions.  I have a rule- no censorship while in art therapy, and it really is a powerful rule.  Allowing free expression fosters camaraderie.

No Censorship Quilt, 2006-2007, made by rival gang members and other youth (male and female), Burnaby Youth Custody Centre

I received a wonderful comment on my site on Jan 6, 2011 from recreational therapist, Lucinda Thomas, Los Angeles:

Your work with teenagers should be the lead story of every newspaper! I am a Recreation Therapist on a Level IV prison located in Los Angeles County and a lot of these guys could have warded off the boredom and anger of being a teenager by making art. Thank you for changing lives- you are an inspiration!

Well, that was nice to read!  I asked her to tell me more about her work:

Hi Katarina.  I’m always interested in getting the truth out to the public concerning rehabilitative programming. I’m afraid there isn’t a way to take and publish photos out of California prisons but I can certainly describe the creative efforts of inmates. My current position is in a disciplinary unit where the men are escorted in cuffs to a horseshoe configuration of individual cages. It’s there that I teach drawing, journaling,and origami while I listen to anything they want to talk about. I’ve been in Corrections for 16 years and this is by far the saddest job I’ve ever had. The state budget cut Arts In Corrections last year after 30 years! I have seen men and women’s lives change by making art. Hope where there is none. We always start my groups with jokes- sometimes they laugh sometimes they don’t. The biggest difference is that they all know I care. Like your work, our compassion is what makes the difference to people with such low self images.

First charcoal drawing ever by chronic repeat young offender who blossomed while doing art, Burnaby Youth Custody Centre, 2007

“Steph” working on a large painting, Burnaby Youth Custody Centre, 2008



4 thoughts on “Custody Art and Art Therapy #healingpowerofart #corrections

  1. Pingback: The No Censorship Quilt. Proceeds supports therapeutic art/sock monkey therapy. #craftivism #Vancouver « POSTSTREET: self-expression through the sock

  2. Pingback: WOUNDED ANGEL by youth artists, “Steph” and “Vincent.” #restorativejustice art | YOUTH ARTISANS

  3. Pingback: Wounded angel. Haavoittunut Enkeli. #custodyart | Katarina Thorsen Art Blog

  4. Pingback: The No Censorship Quilt. #custodyart #craftivism | FEAR NO ART

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