Painting helps Washington County inmates express themselves – Twin Cities


Slowly, the concrete blocks that make up the walls of the recreation area of ​​Washington County Prison are deforming one by one.

Each prisoner has been invited to paint one block, and about 12 blocks have already been marked. One has a picture of the eyes and the other has a picture of a red hand. A prisoner obtained special permission to draw several blocks with the American flag and symbol indicating a branch of the US Army.

It was the flags and military murals that encouraged prisoner Peter Harrington to participate in the prison art program “Art of Expression: Painting Brighter.” St. Paul’s 32-year-old Harrington spent part of Tuesday morning sketching a design depicting his US Marine Corps units (1st Battalion, 5th Marine Corps) breaking through a brick wall.

“I did art for the rest of my life,” Harrington said. “I saw everyone else doing it, and then I saw it (mural), so I thought I would do my unit and keep it going, and Maybe someone else will wear their unit and continue it. “

Harrington spent about a month in Stillwater Prison, spending time on exacerbating robbery and illegal possession of firearms. He was charged last month with robbing a Speedway gas station on Lake Road Terrace in Woodbury twice every five days and a few days later on Hastings Avenue Speedway in Newport.

“It’s good to have something to do with your time,” Harrington said. “This is a good way to share your art.”

Prison managers began allowing prisoners to paint concrete blocks in 2020, but the program was suspended due to COVID-19. It recently started backing up again, Sgt said. Dave Stampner is in charge of the prison program.

“There are a lot of talents here,” he said. “For some reason, I have to be able to show this,” he thought. “

How to use

Prison managers initially considered a large mural for this space, but “it was limited to one person, so we wanted to extend it to others,” Stumpner said. .. “Our idea now is to create a collage of all the different artworks and hope that all the squares will be filled in time. This is not today’s project. This is a long-term, long-standing project. . “

Interested prisoners are first asked to sketch a drawing of their design on a piece of paper that matches the size of the block. Each design must be approved by Stumpner and prison commander Roger Heinen. Words and religious symbols are not allowed. The money for the art supplies comes from the prison inmate fund. This fund is funded by the purchase of prisoners in prison commissioners.

A sketch of his design by prisoner Peter Harrington, the Marine Corps logo of the 1st Battalion and 5th Marine Corps he served. (Scott Taxi / Pioneer Press)

Inmates can choose the blocks they want to decorate. When completed, they receive a photo of their artwork — printed on cardstock paper — for them to hold.

“We also thank them for brightening our walls and making future prisoners visible,” he said.

The prison recreation area, with basketball hoops and bars on the windows, is also the place to read prison poetry. The prison regularly offers prisoners creative writing classes through a grant from the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council of St. Paul.

“This is a multipurpose room and we want to make it visually appealing,” says Stampner. “We want (prisoners) to be proud of it.”

The facility houses approximately 130 prisoners (110 men and 20 women).

“Many meanings”

Prisoner Andrew Ty uses markers to draw his design on a single concrete block. The Thai design is a dark / bright design with two eyes yin and yang looking at the prison cell and the wonderful outdoors.
Prisoner Andrew Ty uses markers to draw his design on a single concrete block. The Thai design is a dark / bright design with two eyes yin and yang looking at the prison cell and the wonderful outdoors. (Scott Taxi / Pioneer Press)

A woodblock print of a female prisoner depicts a tornado, four white doors, and a railroad track. “She said the tornado was a whirlwind of her thoughts, those white parts are the doors — which door do I choose? —And she always feels like she’s on a railroad track going somewhere. “Stumpner said. “There are many meanings.”

Another woman drew a blood-red handprint to represent the injustices facing Native American women, he said.

Prisoner Andrew Thai chose the black-and-white yin-yang symbol to decorate the concrete block. However, Thais chose the eyeball instead of the circle.

“This is in the dark,” said a 35-year-old Thai from Maplewood. “This should be in the outside light. It’s inside the cell. If you think about it, you’re looking around in the yin and yang …. Doing this will help you think. . “

The Thai said he started painting in prison, and someone suggested he sign up for the program. He was charged in June with possession and illegal possession of drugs aimed at selling firearms.

For prisoners like Thais, paintings can bring clear moments and calm down, which can be difficult to find during imprisonment, Stampner said.

“Our goal is to help someone, whatever the way it can be done here,” he said. “The artwork helps to release the emotions that people may be experiencing here. It helps to focus on it. We are the people who enter our prison, they are I want you to leave better than when you entered. “


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