offender art

Disappoint Man - Anon

Can music soothe the savage beast inside?

Can art help rehabilitate offenders? I think the answer is yes to both questions.

I always look forward to visiting the Arts by Offenders annual exhibition. You may remember this. This year it’s at the Southbank Centre. I was at the opening day. You should go too. It’s on until 20 November 2011.

Lots of pictures, sculptures, writing and short films.

Matey boy up top caught my eye. It’s a striking portrait that reproduces well on a web page. It’s called Disappoint Man. It’s by an anonymous inamte at Feltham Young Offenders Institution for under 18s. Looks both aggressive and vulnerable, doesn’t it? The artist definitely has something.

Behind Me (Self Portrait) - Nigel Beever

There are more subtle works too, like this one by Nigel Beever, who is an inmate at HM Prison Lowdham Grange, Nottingham. It’s called Behind Me (Self Portrait). More clear talent.

Unfortunately I cannot show you my favourite exhibit here, but you can find it if you click on this link. It’s a short film called Going To See Daddy which was made by inmates of HM Prison and Young Offenders Institution Doncaster. It’s just a short film – about four minutes – but it’s very effective – heartrending and informative. And just lovely. Go on, have a look.

It’s not all visual art. Here’s a haiku by an anonymous poet who is an inmate at Ashworth Special Hospital, Merseyside.

from Mundorum Monstra

mole caught in the sun
lost, dazed, needing a tunnel
at the end of the light

Now that’s a different perspective on life and light and the whole light at the end of the tunnel scenario. It speaks of mental and physical confinement and a longing for security.

But does all this art make any difference? Well, it raises some money from the sale of the artwork – generally speaking the prisoners or inmates/patients get half and the balance is split between Victim Support and the Koestler Trust, which runs art rehab in prisons and secure hospitals. The prizes range from £100-£25 – or a certificate.

According to the Koestler Trust, art in prison also boosts self-confidence and channels detainees energies into more positive activity than simply sitting around smoking, doing drugs and watching telly.

On some (probably rare) occasions, an artist can discover him or herself – like my friend Dean Stalham who emerged from prison to found Art Saves Lives and become a playwright and impressario. (Sometimes the drama surrounding his shows is even more shocking outside the theatre.)

So does this count as mollycoddling or rewarding bad behaviour? No, I don’t think so. It might make the difference between an offender becoming a reoffender – or not.



Filed under art

27 responses to “offender art

  1. if you find the link see clowns painted by charles manson

    • blackwatertown

      Didn’t find them, though John Wayne Gacy did it too. And I suppose you could say that after serial killer Gacy began painting his clowns in prison, he never did commit another murder. Admittedly that could have been because he got the chair, rather than that he became a reformed character.

      Also – I’ve been having trouble with my internet connection – losing drafts of posts – very annoying. A word got lost from the post above, which should read:
      “Can art help rehabilitate offenders? I think the answer is yes to both questions. Sometimes.”

  2. I like the Nigel Beever self portrait. It is good to see talents being encouraged.

  3. I’m completely taken with Nigel Beever’s talent in his self portrait. The artist appears worn and weathered, yet captured the sadness in his eyes.

  4. I love the film! Informative for little folk, but oh so emotional for grown ups. I used to do a wee bit of work at a prison and the little ones coming to visit always broke my heart.

    • blackwatertown

      If the film becomes copyable I’ll post it here. It’s tempting to ignore the films. Who can be bothered to put on headphones to listen. Easier to graze on the pictures. But it’s a lovely one.

  5. Paul – Very strongly believing there is healing through creativity, we host an annual art fair for local artists at our healing studio. Healing has many levels (body, mind, spirit), and as you’ve just clearly pointed to, “social” as well. When individuals are healed, society begins to heal.

    Wonderful post — thank you!

  6. There is a shocking lack of rehabilitation activities in prisons, which is why so many ex-prisoners simply reoffend and go back to prison. Things like art can have a very positive influence on inmates, and make them aware of how much hidden talent they may be neglecting. The drawing and painting you feature above are both excellent.

    • Lots of prison time seems to be a wasted opportunity. More schooling from other inmates more experienced in crime. Less training in socially useful skills.
      One of the best I have seen recently was a restaurant inside HM Prison High Down – the resturant is called The Clink. They do a good lunch – though you have to go through quite a few locked gates to get in and out.
      The cutlery is platic, no cash or credit cards are allowed and there’s no booze.

  7. That’s some damn good work there – I’m actually a little envious! Let’s hope this talent leads to a more positive future for the artists.

  8. I’m all for anything that can help someone at least have a chance of rehabilitating themselves, except child molesters.

    • Ursula

      Sean, you may wish to think about your reply: You are all for people “rehabilitating themselves, except child molesters”. Don’t quite follow your logic. Surely a child molester is in more urgent need than, say, a harmless bank robber to find his way back into society.

      So what do you suggest? No paintbrush for men in raincoats?


      • I wonder is Sean getting at the idea that while most offenders may be able to aspire towards rehabilitation, there is a serious school of thought that suggests that some child abusers are unable to change in this way – that they will always be a danger to children if they are released unsupervised.
        We already accept as a society that it will never be safe to release some offenders – generally they’re detained in special hospitals.
        Some offending behaviour can be managed and monitored – but the urge to reoffend may be so innate and so strong that it can never be removed. That does seem to be the case with many child abusers. SO the need may be extremely urgent, but also just not possible.
        I am all for rehabilitation – very much so – but it may not be realistic for everyone. That’s not to say they shouldn’t be permitted to paint or whatever – to be treated humanely while in detention – but not necessarily wilth the goal that they will be a reformed character on release.

      • Sorry Ursula, but standing my ground on this one and it is just my take. I cannot find it in me to have any compassion or sympathy for anyone who violates a child.

  9. “Take away love and our earth is a tomb.” ~ Robert Browning

  10. Wow, they certainly have talent. I don’t know if this works or not, but it certainly can’t hurt. “Behind Me” is amazing. They need to use that talent once they’re free.

  11. There are some interesting points in time in this article but I don’t know if I see all of them center to heart. There is some validity but I will take hold opinion until I look into it further. Good article , thanks and we want more! Added to FeedBurner as well

  12. Cruise

    “Love is the child of illusion and the parent of disillusion.” ~ Miguel de Unamuno

  13. p wall

    “Love consists in this, that two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke

  14. Aaron Ducasse

    Hi. Like your writing a lot.

  15. paul osullivan

    Knew Nigel Beever at school and he was very talented then

  16. John

    I knew Nigel for a few years before he got locked up. He fell in with the wrong crowd and made some serious mistakes………there you go. But a real, raw talent and lovely man deep down. Hope you’re looking after yourself mate.

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