“You may be behind bars but your imagination is free to go anywhere” was one of the statements that flew out of my mouth to the group of 7 inmates that had been chosen for the first One Heart Art Camp.
It’s been a week since I was locked up. But it’s also been a week since my body’s been free to roam. What I find is that my mind has chosen to return to a place of incarceration. My thoughts return to the boy pictured above. I’ll call him “Charlie”. His face is not free for viewing due to jailhouse rules. So, I will protect his name as well.
Charlie walked in with the other boys. All dressed the same. All had turned their clothes inside out in case paint got on them (good thing cuz it did). Their eyes delighted not at the art supplies, but at the food supplies we brought. Candy bars, beef jerky, crackers, ho ho’s, granola bars, oatmeal pies and fruit were freely passed around. Surprisingly they loved the fruit. Food seemed to immediately break down a few barriers. I wonder if that’s why Jesus ate with people.
As they settled in they were asked to doodle. “Draw anything,” I said. My voice was immediately overpowered with a correctional officer boldly proclaiming “Except gang related stuff!” And so, I began again. “Draw anything as long as it’s not gang related. That’s not allowed here.” Charlie started drawing diamonds in the corner of his paper. He never ventured off the corner of his paper for the first 30-45 minutes. It was apparent that he was bound. Not physically. Creatively. Bound. Afraid to move off the edge. Constrained to the outer limits. What was he afraid of?
He began to look at some of the magazines and books we brought with us. He was drawn to texture in the pictures. Color. Abstract objects. Those were my first clues that he might be the one. I asked him if he wanted to paint on one of the big wooden boards we brought with us as canvases. His eyes got big. He couldn’t believe he had been given permission to do such a thing even though I had told the group at the beginning that they could choose boards to paint on. So began an exploration so vast that barbed wired melted away and freedom began.
This blog is not the place to describe the technical process of artistry between teacher and student. I really don’t know which one of us was the teacher anyway. What I do want to share is the moment of transfiguration. The moment God broke through and radiated out of this boy/man/artist/prisoner.
He struggled with the paint. He had only chosen two colors to work with. Black and light green. He looked up and said, “I want the black to be more over the green, but the green keeps getting back on top more.” That’s where God broke through. “You know what, Charlie? I think YOU are the green paint. I believe God says ‘YOU are a leader’. Charlie, there’s no reason for you to be here in prison and I never want to see you here again. You’ve been given a second chance.” Charlie hung his head and wiped his hand across his face. (If he weren’t in front of 6 other inmates I believe he would have broken down and cried.) Then he looked back up at me nodding his head and said, “Yes, Ma’am.” I believe in that moment Charlie’s spirit rose up and drew a line in the sand that said, “I will no longer fear the leader in me.”
Some behavioral issues have been going on at the facility since we have left, but Charlie hasn’t been involved in the uprising. The earliest he can be released is April. However, the leader in Charlie has already been released. In fact, his art work will be exhibited with great honor in my upcoming exhibit in Fort Worth, called “Bound To Breakthrough”. There’s even a miracle of a chance Charlie will be able to attend the artist reception with a correctional officer. Please pray he can join me there.
I don’t know what all Charlie needs when he gets released but I do know that he needs artistic opportunities. He IS an artist!!!! HE IS!!!! He is raw in his art. He doesn’t know he’s an artist. He didn’t know he was a leader either. The challenge is hoping/praying he doesn’t define who he is by the bars that surround him or the past that got him there.
If you would like to see his artwork and perhaps get a chance to talk to this amazing young man, come to the Fort Worth Community Arts Center 1300 Gendy Street Fort Worth, Texas 76107 for the artist reception Friday, October 7th 7pm-9pm. Even better, come buy his artwork. The money he receives will help him start a new life outside prison walls. Charlie is worth the investment.