Indiana library showcases jail inmates' `Art of Recovery'

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JEFFERSONVILLE, Ind. (AP) — For Angela Jackson, a woman incarcerated in Clark County Jail on drug charges, creating art is a form of meditation that stills her mind.

“It’s calming,” she said. “It takes you away for a little while. You can totally just get away — you’re in your own world and you’re doing your own thing.”

Jackson is one of about 15 people from the jail with art on display at the Jeffersonville Township Public Library through the end of the month in a series titled “Unchained: Art of Recovery from the Clark County Jail,” part of a special art program hosted by the jail to help provide creative outlets for inmates.

The series, which is a way to bring awareness to National Recovery Month, spans mediums — some artists found their voice through painting, writing and graffiti art on paper, others by creating 3-D pieces like dreamcatchers and soap carved with a toothpick.

While she’s had some fun with painting, Jackson focuses on making woven arts such as small tapestries or coasters, many of which she gives away to other inmates. She uses things available to her in her living area as supplies — T-shirts cut into strips, colored with pencils from the commissary. She said she got the idea from the kitchen rugs she remembers from her childhood.

“Anything to make it feel like home I guess is what we were trying to do,” she said. Her piece in the art show, “Tapestries of Hope,” is four of the smaller woven pieces hung in a wooden frame.

Amanda Beam, director of programs at the jail, said she got the idea from a similar program put on by the Floyd County Jail last year. Starting about six weeks ago, she put out an invitation for anyone in the jail who wanted to come use their recreation time making art. Supplies were donated, and participants could either put their art in the show or do it just for fun.

“It’s been really good,” Beam said. “This is their own little dome of creativity and they can make what they want and let their imagination run wild.

“There was one that just said ‘Momma loves you’ and you could tell she was just painting from the heart. I feel like that from an emotional aspect really connected to what we’re trying to achieve.”

Beam said there’s so much more to see behind what’s visible in the art — a person’s background, personality, feelings.

“There are stories behind each piece because there’s a person behind each piece,” she said. “I wish that we could share each of those stories because it’s so reflective of the piece itself — there’s a lot more meaning behind the art than you can just see at first glance.”

Clark County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Scottie Maples said it’s important to have programming that allows inmates to learn new things and work on self-improvement.

“Things like this help keep morale up, could possibly help recidivism,” he said, adding that Sheriff Jamey Noel has made programming a priority during his administration. “If we feel like they’re good and can help keep people out of jail, we’ll continue to explore them.

“I’ve said it before but if one inmate doesn’t come back to jail because of (a) program, it was a success. It’s that simple.”

Jackson is now working on a blanket for her grandchildren, taking some of the smaller squares she makes and connecting them. The act of making things helps drive away the anxiety that sometimes comes and helps her with her sobriety. So do other programs like the Bible class, in which she and others focus on things like disappointments and forgiveness.

She’s been in jail before, but she’s working on making changes to break that cycle.

“I’m going to walk out one day and I’m not going to come back,” she said.

More Information

• WHAT: “Unchained: Art of Recovery from the Clark County Jail,” series featuring art created by people incarcerated there.

• WHERE: Jeffersonville Township Public Library, 211 E. Court Ave. Jeffersonville

• WHEN: On display through the end of September, in recognition of National Recovery Month

• To donate art supplies to the continued program, contact Clark County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Scottie Maples at smaples@ clarkcosheriff.com.

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