The Healing Power of Art
By: Hannah Gottschalk, VWW Justice-Involved Services Program Support Specialist
Vermont Works for Women hosts Enrichment Night at Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility (CRCF). Each month, a local organization, business or professional comes in to give a short presentation to participants where they talk about their work, barriers they have overcome, and any tools or strategies they have used to overcome challenges, reach their goals, and be successful in their career.
Last month, VWW brought in John Vincent, owner of the non-profit A Revolutionary Press in Fair Haven, Vermont, to present for Enrichment Night. A Revolutionary Press’s mission is to print radical and revolutionary ideals and donate all income to other non-profits doing social justice work. John brought in copies of many of his prints, ranging from bookmarks to medium-sized posters. He had arranged the prints on two tables, filling almost every square inch of the space.
As participants came in and sat at the tables, they began to look at the prints, reading them and asking John questions. It was clear for the first few moments how interested each of the women were about the art in front of them. Early on, the women asked if they would be able to take some of the prints back with them to their rooms. They talked about putting them up on their walls, imagining using this art as a way to decorate a place that creates uniformity and suppresses individuality.
During his presentation, John talked about his work at the press and what he stands for, and highlighted a few pieces that featured art, poems, and quotes from incarcerated or formerly incarcerated artists.
As I watched the participants interact with John and the art in front of them, it was evident just how important art is to these women. During conversations with John and each other, they talked about the art that they do while incarcerated. From crocheting to drawing to poetry, many of the women described their own art forms as a crucial tool they use to pass the time. They spoke with passion about how important art is to them and were enthusiastically excited at the prospect of John coming back in with a printing press and materials for them to create their own prints.
In addition to the prints, John also brought an offer; the participants could put their art and poetry into an exhibit currently open at the Rokeby Museum in Ferrisburgh, Vermont. The exhibit titled “Finding Hope Within: Healing & Transformation through the Making of Art withing the Carceral System” features art and poetry from incarcerated or formerly incarcerated artists, including some from artists at CRCF. I watched as engagement grew higher as John asked if any of the women had pieces that they would like to add to the exhibit. Some began to tell him their ideas and about existing work that they have that could be included. One woman even went back to her room to grab some of her drawings to give to John then and there. When she returned, she explained her pieces to John, talking animatedly about each one.
Art is so important to the women. In an environment where self-expression is limited, art is a way for them to be able to express their personality and sense of self. It is also a way for them to connect with people and things outside of the walls of CRCF. One woman discussed her poetry in which she writes about her family and her experiences, others crochet items for family members and draw images that remind them of their lives back home. Art to many of these women is not just art but instead can be an outlet for self-expression and a tool to help them get through their time inside.
“Finding Hope Within: Healing & Transformation through the Making of Art withing the Carceral System” will be at the Rokeby Museum until October 14, 2023. It includes art and poetry from artists incarcerated or formerly incarcerated in Maine, Massachusetts, and Vermont. The exhibit is a collaboration between John, VWW, other local organizations and the artists whose work is featured. Following its time at the Rokeby, the art from Vermont artists will be travelling to libraries across the state. It will begin at the Hinesburg Library starting on October 21, 2023. We encourage everyone to go and visit the exhibit to support the artists and their work.