The Monitor

Let’s take another artistic detour from the gallery scene.

The Apodaca Federal Prison near Monterrey,Mexico has a small art program. Under the instruction of Alvi Cardona, inmates learn painting techniques along with many other craft skills for which there might be a market. Apodaca believes in inmate rehabilitation. See some of this work on display at Laura’s Beauty Salon.

The paintings are by Cardona. His imagery includes figurative, still life, and abstract styles. A painting of Al Pacino as Scarface goes further than the initial assumption of mimicking. The figure is placed in the artist’s house. “Cardona said that when they were children growing up in poverty,” reported Ramon Garcia, McAllen Educator, “they emulated him.”

The national minimum wage in Mexico is reported to be $5.35 a day, and Mexico has a generation of 17 million people between the ages of 14 to 27 called the NINIs. They don’t work; they don’t study. They live off mom. The cartels offer them thousands of dollars just to be their eyes. “They’re young people with a gang mentality, continued Garcia, “they want to be a part of something, and they get to ride in the back of trucks and have a gun. Most of the inmates are from this group.”

Another painting shows the place where Cardona was arrested. The view is an empty bar. We see a second room, darkened, with a lone figure. This is a self-portrait of the artist. He uses dark images because, as he has stated, “Dark was my life.”

Interestingly, the still life and the abstract paintings show more sophistication. Cardona swings from a naïve style to more mainstream styles depending on his emotional distance from the subject.

Another artist, Matias Najera, draws on leather. The two drawings displayed are flawlessly crafted and finely detailed. This artist’s imagery uses traditional Christian religious subjects, with the first drawing depicting St. George on horseback helping a homeless man, and the second, a cherub grouping. Both works are expertly suspended within dark wood frames by leather laces.

High-relief soap carvings by an ex-inmate only known as El Pollo are quirky. Painted images result in a folk art look, such as the portrait of a father and son.

At Apodaca the inmates are allowed to sell their work in an open-air family area. A particularly interesting aspect is that they will accept commissions. Laura Garcia, Owner of Laura’s Beauty Salon, has taken on the project of helping with the sale of the arts and crafts, serving as the representative for the valley customer. Art sales allow these artists to purchase art materials, pay lawyers fees, and to send money to their families.

I can’t decide whether to send a photo of me sitting on a bench or the Photoshopped image of me envisioned as an archangel for my portrait clock from Apodaca. Ah, the agony of the aesthetic decision.

By Dave Eisenstadter
Posted Aug 12, 2011 @ 05:00 AM  
  Volunteer Gina DiCara counseling a Norfolk Prison Inmate on reentering society

Roy Hendricks, an inmate at the Norfolk County Correctional Center in Dedham, meets with volunteer Ginny DiCara, of Brockton, on Tuesday, Aug. 9. DiCara is a volunteer in a new program that pairs community members to inmates soon to be reentering society.

Inside the locked doors of the Norfolk County jail, volunteers with a new mentorship program hope they are the key to lead repeat offenders to productive lives.

The result of a partnership between Volunteers of America and the Norfolk County Sheriff’s office, the program assigns community members to inmates soon to be reentering society. Mentors meet with prisoners weekly for the final months of their term, then assist them through their first year after jail.

For Norfolk County Sheriff Michael Bellotti, bringing in mentors is an effort to reduce the prison population. About 670 reside at Norfolk County Correctional Center, more than twice its designed capacity of 302.

“It’s a dramatic shift in how we connect the inmates with the outside world,” Bellotti said. “This is inviting the outside community into our four walls to help bring down the obstacles that typically lead to recidivism.”

Issues relating to addiction or frustrations in searching for housing, employment or health care can lead recently released prisoners right back to their former lives and habits that got them arrested in the first place, Bellotti said.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011 02:45

New Haven joins effort to break prison recidivism

Written by

JOHN CHRISTOFFERSEN, Associated Press Updated 12:41 p.m., Saturday, August 6, 2011

Ex-inmatee from Virginia Prison System working at job found thru a prison reentry program
In this July 27, 2011 photo, Michael Frasier transports bags of ice at his job in New Haven, Conn. Frasier, who has been in and out of prison most of his adult life, found employment with help of a prison re-entry program in New Haven. (Jessica Hill / AP)
    NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — Stephen Polifka Jr. showed up recently at City Hall in New Haven desperate to find work.

    "Where should I hang myself?," he said as he sat down to meet with Tirzah Kemp, a city official who helps former prisoners. "I get so frustrated I want to give up."

    "I want you to take a deep breath," Kemp said.

    Polifka, 46, a carpenter released from prison in 2009, is struggling to find work in a poor economy with a felony criminal record for drug possession. He's staying at a 90-day shelter, surviving on food stamps; he fears returning to drug-ridden streets.

    New Haven shares his fears and is among a growing number of cities, states and community groups stepping up efforts to reintegrate newly released prisoners before they commit new crimes. The 2008 federal Second Chance Act has helped fund about 250 prison re-entry programs around the country aimed at reducing recidivism by helping former prisoners.

    By Teresa Smith, Postmedia News August 7, 2011

    KINGSTON — Prisoners’ Justice Day is an annual day of memorial and protest when inmates refuse to work or eat in order to show solidarity with their “brethren” who have died behind bars.

    It may not mean anything to most Canadians, but for John — an inmate at Kingston’s Joyceville Institution — it’s a day that weighs heavy on his heart.

    RALEIGH, N.C. (RNS) In the two months since North Carolina's legislature laid off most of its prison chaplains, Betty Brown, director of prison chaplaincy services, has been crisscrossing the state searching for volunteers who can attend to the religious needs of Native American, Wiccan and Rastafarian prisoners.

    State legislators had assumed volunteer ministries would jump in and help prisoners meet the ritual and devotional needs of their faiths. But so far, that hasn't happened.

    Monday, July 11, 2011  03:06 AM


    Franklinton, Ohio - The living-room wall of the Marie Celeste Center is dominated by a striking image of three faceless women walking arm in arm.

    "It represents our need to find out who we are," said Marie Celeste Hammond, an ex-offender and the founder of the transitional home for women leaving prison. The center that bears her name is one of the few facilities of its kind in the area.

    Female ex-offenders must deal with survival before identity as they return to a world that is often unwelcoming. Like their male counterparts, they usually walk out of prison with no money, possessions, home or job - and often without family support.

    Louisiana - John Thompson narrowly escaped death by lethal injection after serving 18 years behind bars for a murder and other crimes he did not commit. He was released after evidence revealed that prosecutors withheld a blood test and other information that would have exonerated him and a jury awarded him $14 million compensation but the U.S. Supreme Court stripped him of the judgment. Despite it all, he has dedicated himself to helping others like him get their lives back on track after incarceration.

    Thompson told The Final Call he was stunned but mostly saddened after the court's 5-4 reversal. He could have walked out of prison and gone into seclusion but instead, he reaches back every day by working to build Resurrection After Exoneration, a New Orleans, Louisiana-based program that helps men get back on their feet after incarceration.

    Prisoners of the world, unite!

    by Stephanie Findlay on Monday, July 4, 2011 2:26pm - 

    In January 2010, a 50-something inmate serving a life sentence at Mountain Institution, a medium-security prison in Agassiz, British Columbia, polled his fellow prisoners to see if they were in favour of starting a labour union. Over 76 per cent of the inmates said yes. By March, he and a core group of 14 inmates at Mountain had drafted a constitution for the union and have been working towards certification ever since. If the inmates are successful, the union will be the first of its kind in the country.

    July 2, 2011 By James Ridgeway and Jean Casella

    Inmates at Pelican Bay Supermax in California protest living conditions by going on hunger strike.
    “The only contact that you have with individuals is what they call a pinky shake,” said one prisoner.

    California - As Americans prepare to celebrate Independence Day, inmates in solitary confinement at  Pelican Bay State Prison are standing up for their rights in the only way they can – by going on a hunger strike. The prisoners, who are being held in long-term and often permanent isolation, have sworn to refuse food until conditions are improved in Pelican Bay’s Security Housing Unit (SHU).

    Built in 1989, Pelican Bay is the nation’s first purpose-built supermax prison and remains one of its most notorious. Constructed to house 2,280 of California’s “most serious criminal offenders,” Pelican Bay currently holds more than 3,100. Over a third of them live in the X-shaped cluster of buildings known as the SHU, which CDCR describes as “a modern design for inmates who are difficult management cases, prison gang members, and violent maximum security inmates.”

    Sunday, 29 May 2011 16:35

    Federal inmates eligible to use e-mail

    Written by

    May 28, 2011 

    The Facebook page reads: "We are inmates in the federal prison system who are looking for someone to talk to. We have e-mail capability so we may chat."A few caveats: "You must be educated and (non-ghetto) please." Oh, and only women need reply. Welcome to 21st-Century prison life, a world where those on the inside can communicate with those on the outside via cyberspace.

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