While inmates at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks serve their sentences, many of them participate in various recreational programs, including art.
During call times for certain activities, minimum custody inmates can choose to go to the crafts shop where they can draw pictures using various mediums, make candles, design artwork using leather or make ceramic items.
“In all of our programs here, our main mission objective is to prepare them and have an opportunity for them to go back out into the community,” said Barry Garner, USDB recreation services supervisor. “This is doing our part to prepare their mindset to go out into the community and have the community accept them.”
Several of the pieces the inmates have created will be featured in the 40th annual Hidden Art Locked Away art show and sale sponsored by the Leavenworth County Artists Association at the Riverfront Community Center, 123 Esplanade St., Leavenworth Jan. 31 through Feb. 1. The art of 16 USDB inmates will join the art of U.S. Penitentiary-Leavenworth inmates, and will be on display and judged from 4-8 p.m. Jan. 31 and on sale 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Feb. 1 in the Women’s Waiting Room at the RFCC. Prices range from $1 to $300 with 80 percent of the proceeds going back to the inmate and 20 percent going to the LCAA.
“We were given it by the River City Community Players… and they wanted to turn it over to a fine arts group because technically the artwork that the inmates produce are fine arts, not performing arts,” said Matt Nowak, LCAA programs director. “We think it is going to be a complete success. …For the inmates, we’re just part of their program because they do art anyway, and it just makes sense that they have an outlet with the work that they do. It just works out really well.”
Pieces include an Indian map of Oklahoma that took the artist two years to create using coffee beans and diluted magazine ink, handmade leather art, paint-by-number paintings, pencil drawings of Pennywise from “It,” a pastel bird, a splatter paint American flag and more.
Though only minimum custody inmates are allowed to come to the crafts shop, the pieces in the show were contributed by inmates throughout the facility.
“It gives (the other inmates) more incentive to say, ‘Oh, I could be in the crafts shop,’” said Paige Rothwell, USDB crafts shop supervisor. “It gives more incentive for even the guys outside of the program to want to be better.”
This year, inmates in the crafts shop program were given new opportunities with the addition of ceramics and candles.
“It’s really exciting,” Rothwell said. “I think that will draw more attention.”
Pieces include ice candles, ceramic mugs, clay bowls and a Pac Man arcade game piggy bank.
Rothwell said by looking at the art submitted this year by past participating inmates, she can see that they have improved.
“They’ve definitely progressed,” she said.
Having the art sale each year provides opportunity for the inmates and the public.
“First, it is important for the inmates because they can submit stuff to the outside and show what they do while they are incarcerated, and it gives them more incentive to be better and do good,” Rothwell said. “When they’re in the crafts shop or doing these paintings and drawings, they aren’t necessarily thinking, ‘I’m incarcerated.’ They are bringing themselves outside of that everyday life of being incarcerated. They are thinking outside of the box and becoming more invested in what they’re doing.
“For the community, I think it is good for them to see what (the inmates) are doing when they’re incarcerated,” she said. “A lot of the time, the community just hears bad things about people who are incarcerated. They don’t necessarily hear the good things about what they do. … Seeing the talent, that takes the stereotype off it a little bit.”