It took nearly two years for the project to come to fruition, but it finally happened; I painted a mural with a group of inmates from Florence Prison Camp outside of the prison walls in the town of Canon City. As a group project, we painted a 45-foot long mural inside of the Prison Museum. Working on this project was the incredibly fulfilling and also an educational experience like none I have had. Spending a total of six days with the guys, we accomplished an impressive mural to the benefit of the public.
The group consisted of seven inmates who varied in age from late twenties to 69 and the offenses they were serving time for varied. They came from regions all over the country and even abroad. The skill levels of the inmates varied from advanced to complete novice. The men worked with excitement, determination, and in complete harmony, in ways which I have never witnessed before.
The mural was the final project of a program is called the Creative Arts Platform or CAP. CAP is an arts program which has been implemented within the Florence Federal Prison Compound in Florence Colorado.
For me it all started In 2016 when I published a coloring book/self-assessment book called “Meet Your Monsters“, the book is a type of “Art Therapy” book. In May of 2016, I was contacted by Justin Reddick about having the book be a part of an art program which he had been developing and implementing into the prison in Florence. Upon meeting and talking further we began discussing the project, we started conceptualizing the idea of having inmates taken out into the community and having them paint a mural.
A few months later, after I had cleared a background check, and was badged to go into the prison, I visited the Prison complex and met with the prison officials and other members of the faculty. It was at this time that I also gave feedback to the inmates in the program about their art. In this situation, I did not get to meet any of the inmates or even get to know who they were, but I heard people hint that some of them were quite famous. The first stage of the art program was taking place at the ADX (Administrative Maximum Facility). ADX is the SuperMax Prison inside of the Complex. It is home to some of the most dangerous inmates in the world. If you don’t know about it, research it a little.
About a year later, the program was in full swing and the Prison placed the first order for the therapy books which were to be given to the inmates at ADX. “Meet Your Monsters” was designed to show a way to confront problems and make efforts to correct the thinking that is causing them. It was in many ways my first venture into an “Art Therapy” project and its crazy to me that the initial institution which implemented the project was the prison for the highest-risk criminals in the United States.
At the end of the summer, Justin and I really started talking about the possibility of a mural project in the community. In November, Justin contacted me again and informed me the mural had been approved. We were to take a group of inmates from the minimum security “Camp” which is also in the complex and take them into the community and paint a mural. The location which we acquired to paint was the Museum of Colorado Prisons. And the date was set to begin painting in mid-December 2017.
The CAP program consisted of multiple lessons for the inmates in the “Camp”. The initial group of inmates in the program was 7. The last two classes of the program I attended and met the guys for the first time. On my primary visit, I was shown the results of the previous week’s works which were collages they had made. The inmates all sincerely showed great interest and talent for the project, and it seriously got me excited to get to know the guys more. That same day I gave a talk to the guys about my work, my processes, and a few philosophies of art. We then discussed the project that we were to do together.
During the previous weeks, Justin, Dr. Paul Zohn, and myself began developing the concept of telling the story of incarceration as the theme of the mural. With this idea in mind, I created a few mockups, and we showed these to the class and for the next week tasked the students to contemplate the idea of what incarceration meant to them.
The following week I again attended the class, and all the inmates were extremely excited to be there. They had met independently through the week and thoroughly brainstormed numerous ideas based upon the ideas which we had presented the week before. They had found and printed pictures to show me, and then we had a much more well refined and personalized concept to work with. The group decided to title the project “From Dusk to Dawn.”
The following week was go time. On Tuesday the 12th December, I arrived in Canyon city around 9 am and began mentally preparing for the task ahead of us. The plan was to meet at the museum for four days for 4-hour shifts. The mural is over 40 feet long so I was a bit nervous taking on such a large project with a group of artists who had little to no experience working on large-scale paintings or murals.
Around 11 am, the group arrived. The group consisted of Dr. Zohn the Psychologist, Justin Reddick, and Jessica Salo as the supervisors as well as the seven inmates in the group. The first day of painting we spent preparing the wall. We got everything masked and primed the wall. We then discussed all the final plans and began mapping out the wall. During the prep, we discussed the ideas further and how the plan for how we were going to paint the wall.
The second day we really started going at it. Although sadly one of the most enthusiastic inmates was not able to attend this day or any of the days after. Regardless of being less one artist, we began to work. After a brief discussion, we decided what parts of the wall would be painted by what artist. Then we began; I showed them how we section the wall and then the work began. Just like that, the artists were drawing on the walls. Before you know it, the spaces were beginning to come to life, and then the moment happened; the color touched the wall, and the mural was underway. The initial shape was the blue of the sky, and what a magical sky it began to shape up to be. We basically had the whole wall blocked out in the first four-hour shift of painting. The entire group worked in absolute harmony. One of the inmates said, “this was the most fun he had in at least 10 years” and he was just painting a wall a solid color.
The third day the wall really started shaping up. We started getting much of the detail into the wall and even started finishing little parts of the wall. The guys painted with great inspiration and intense enthusiasm; it was a remarkable scene to see men from so many varied backgrounds working together, in complete harmony to do a piece of art, which expresses their own story. The feeling of giving a group of persons a voice that have had their voices all but stripped from them is a feeling the words just cannot describe. This project truly was becoming the most moving project which I have ever laid witness or especially been a part of.
The fourth and final day was a truly magical day. I showed up a bit early to ensure that all the work would be completed, but really I only spent four hours more than the guys cleaning and working on the project in total. They did the bulk of the work from painting to cleaning to keeping the feelings and atmosphere good. The day began to come to an end, and the feeling of accomplishment came across the whole of the group as bit by bit, section by section the mural began to be finished. Until finally it was done and the project came to an end. The press came, and the guys got to feel like and be respected as men of accomplishment, like artists, like the creators they are; for the first time in years.
“From Dusk to Dawn” was without a doubt the greatest artistic experience of my life so far. It was so moving for me to be able to touch people in such a way as to give men an experience of freedom, happiness, and accomplishment. The men learned to work as a team, to create as a team, to work in harmony and create an artwork which the entire community and the whole world can benefit from.
The lesson of this project was on leaving your mark, and these men did far more than leave a mark. They painted a mural in a museum which will be viewed by people for decades, they told a story which is so very important to our society to hear, and they moved me more than any other group of artists or men really has. It was truly an honor to be a part of such a rewarding and significant project. I will forever be grateful for such a moving experience.
I wasn’t allowed to photograph the inmates or share any personal information about them, but man I’m really missing the guys already.
This project was completed by donation and volunteering. If you would like to support me in doing more of this sort of work purchase a copy of “Meet Your Monsters” today and together we can help to make the lives of inmates a little more enjoyable.