Thomas A. McKinley ’06 and Hannah Weil McKinley Fellowship Recipient
This summer, I hope to conduct a two-part self-designed project. First, I would facilitate a five week art class at Maine Coastal Regional Reentry Center in Belfast, Maine. I would teach the fundamentals of drawing, painting, and art history to eight to twelve inmate-students. Second, I would create a portraiture series of selected inmate-students. The series would go on display at Bowdoin in the Fall semester.
Since first hearing about Mass Incarceration in the beginning of high school, I have been fascinated by the field of corrections. I had an immediate and strong intuition that our current system of locking up, and in many cases throwing away the key, was deeply wrong, especially given the disproportional number of minority, lower class, young men affected. The largely dehumanizing punishments and attitudes, and outdated, ineffective programming in our prisons further concerned me. I thought a lot about what an effective societal response to crime would be when so many offenders have experienced a slew of disadvantages. I am still exploring the balance between order in society and fair consequences given certain disadvantages.
I visited The Maine Coastal Regional Reentry Center in November 2016 and was struck by the great opportunity for a project centered around visual art and the incarcerated population of the state. Maine Coastal Regional Reentry is run by Volunteers of America in conjunction with Maine Department of Corrections, Maine Board of Corrections, Waldo County Sheriff’s Office, and the Restorative Justice Project. Approximately 30 nonviolent, male offenders in the last year of their sentences are residents.
Directed by Jerome Weiner, the program is unique. Initially, the visitor is struck by the bond between administration and inmate. After telling me a bit about his background in Labor Studies and eventually criminal justice, Jerome called into the hall from his desk, “Logan, we’re ready for ya!” I expected, as in the previous summer at the Suffolk County Jail in Boston, to be toured by a staff member, have minimal contact with inmates, and be generally opposed to most of the attitudes expressed by the corrections staff. Instead, Logan, an inmate dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, put his mp3 player in his pocket and shook my hand. Logan, unsupervised, walked me around the facility, introducing me to other inmates, describing their lock-your-own cell and administer-your-own medication policies. I was in awe. The Reentry Center is based on a Cognitive Behavior Therapy model. Inmates are treated with respect, humanized, educated, and encouraged to express themselves. Maine Coastal Regional Reentry’s method has proven to be successful. The recidivism rate after the reentry center is around 30% while the national rate is over 75%. The Reentry Center seemed to be the living example of my ideas about criminal justice reform. I was fortunate enough to spend nearly two hours asking questions and conversing with a number of inmates at the Reentry Center during my visit. Given that inmates are already assigned to daily classes based on their needs or interests, this program seemed like an ideal structure for me to implement my art class.
Personally, this project will help me gain experience working directly with an incarcerated population. It is important to me that I have direct experience with an issue and population before considering serving in a broader way, through policy making for example. I also believe this project will help me explore the connection between my Government and Visual Arts majors as well as the possibility of a career combining visual arts and criminal justice. Last summer, I interned at a criminal justice policy reform non profit. Through that experience, I confirmed criminal justice as a likely career focus. But, I also found myself having extra creative energy, asking my supervisor to work on any design project that arose. I hope that this project will help me understand both the difficulties and enriching elements of combining these two strong interests of mine in my future career.
- Date September 22, 2017
- Tags 2017, Sophomore