Art & Prison

Posted: October 15, 2013 in Book Reviews

Art is such a hot topic on the inside. My kids are constantly wanting books on tattoos, calligraphy, Aztec art, nail art, hair art, shoe art, etc. The art books are too numerous for me to mention, I’ll just say: GET THEM.

Here are just two books – the first primarily for us adults and the second that is little known.

Brewster, Larry. Paths of Discovery: Art and Practice and Its Impact in California Prisons. 2012. CreateSpace. 978-147911021-6.

41lzfg9d61LIf you are interested in starting an art program in prison, whether it be the literary, theatrical or fine arts this book can assist you with your argument and grant writing. The California  Arts in Corrections (AIC) program brought together artists from the community to work with men inside. A 1983 evaluation found that benefits of the program exceeded costs. “The program was relatively inexpensive to operate, and in exchange there was measurable improvement in inmate attitudes and a significant reduction in incident reports and institutional tension. A majority of participating inmates showed improved social skills and respect for others. There was evidence of enhanced self -confidence and trust, as well as a desire to live productive lives. …. A 1987 study found a significantly reduced rate of recidivism for Arts in Corrections inmates compared with other parolees. 74 % had clean records their first year out of prison compared with only 49% of other parolees. Within two years of their release, 58% of non-AIC participants were in trouble, compared with only 31% of those who participated in the program. ”

In addition, there is some great artwork: paintings, sculptures and poetry as an example of the fine work done.

Book begins with a forward by Spoon Jackson, internationally known poet, author and actor, serving a life sentence in California State prisons. It progresses through chapters such as The Artistic Process, Discovering Self, Creating a Safe Haven, Reconnecting with Family, Rehabilitation, etc. All chapters have writings and art reflecting the chapter as well as interviews with inmates reflecting upon their learning and others.

A terrific book.

There is also a new film out about this subject: a companion piece to this book is the film At Night I Fly: Images from New Folsom Prison It’s a superior film with an inside look into men serving life sentences in a maximum security prison, and how art has impacted them. The US Premiere is this year;  review will be posted soon at  Film Forward (I’m reviewing films at this site).



Illustrations from the Inside: The Beat Within. 2007. Mark Baty publications. 978-9790486-4-7.

“The Beat Within is a decade-old, nationwide writing program for incarcerated youth. “Words not Weapons” is the organization’s credo, inspiring these young adults – males and females of all ethnicities – to learn that words and images are more effective than violence. Illustrations from the Inside features the pencil drawings created by these youth, giving an intimate perspectives on these artists and the system they must struggle through, in some cases for the rest of their lives.”

From the forward by Adam Mansbach: ” I cannot help but reflect upon the similarities and points of rupture between The Beat Within and the graffiti movement that sprang up in a decimated New York City in the early 1970s. There, too – amidst the arson -charred buildings of the Bronx, at a historical juncture characterized by governmental neglect and underfunded schools and a cynical, racist lack of expectations about the futures possible for young people of color – a generation of artists marginalized and criminalized by uncaring institutions found a way to dialogue among themselves.”  Black and white drawings and photographs throughout from young men and women currently or formerly incarcerated. Minimal text identifies most artists by age, gender, race and location with a possible biographical sentence .  Elements of the artwork may be explained.

  1. Kristi Holohan says:


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