The Art of Rehabilitation
Have you ever been curious as to what goes on behind prison walls? We often see a lot of movies portraying the day-to-day, cringe-worthy events, usually with a prison break-out scene as a climax. But have you ever truly wondered how prison life prepares prisoners for reintegration into society? For example, what kind of rehabilitation programmes are offered in prison?
Well, in this post, I would like to highlight one such programme: an art programme utilized by the Trinidad and Tobago Prison Service to help rehabilitate and prepare inmates for life outside prison. One that allows inmates a different kind of freedom within the confines of prison; a freedom of self-expression through art.
The art programme started in 2009 at the Trinidad and Tobago Carrera Island Convict Prison, by inmate Alladin Mohammed, both founding member, and prison art instructor of the Carrera Island Studios School of Art. As part of the T&T Prison Service’s ongoing “restorative justice” initiative to rehabilitate inmates, there is the Annual Prison Service Inmates’ Art Exhibition, made open to the public, showcasing artwork by artists from the Carrera Island Studios School of Art, Port of Spain Prison, and Maximum Security Prison. These exhibitions were introduced in 2010, and are usually held in the week leading up to Father’s Day in the month of June.
The proceeds of these exhibitions go towards purchasing more art supplies, paying the additional costs of the electric bill in prison to allow the inmates to work on their art at night, and also to worthy causes and events. In 2011, inmates from the Carrera Island Convict Prison donated artwork to help raise funds for the restoration of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Port of Spain. Last year, proceeds from the 2017 Prison Service Inmates’ Art Exhibition were donated to a charity that helps abused women.
In 2016, my husband and I attended our first prison art exhibit at Trincity Mall. We made an impromptu visit to the mall, and while walking through the main atrium, we came across the various artworks on display. What caught our eye the most was seeing a sketch artist seated at a table drawing life-like portraits on the spot by watching photographs. Since we were in no hurry to go anywhere that day, Aaron and I decided to sit and have our portrait drawn. We sat still holding hands for almost one hour. The artist, named Cleophus Maynard, fussed that if he had more time, his work could have been better. But we didn’t care…we thought his work was a masterpiece! Judge for yourself. (It’s the last photo-Aaron and Nadine in the video below: Tribute to Mr. Maynard Art Sketches.) He said he had the most difficulty getting the curls in my hair right!
In 2017, we again attended the exhibit for the second time. After a hike to the tracking station up Bamboo Cathedral in Chaguaramas, followed by a sea bath at Macqueripe beach, my parents, and both Aaron and I visited the Long Circular Mall in St. James for lunch. Coincidentally, the prison art exhibition was taking place that day. We spent some time admiring all the beautiful paintings.
This year, 2018, I planned well in advance to attend this year’s 9th Annual Prison Service Inmates’ Art Exhibition, held in Long Circular Mall from June 12th – 16th. I wanted to highlight the amazing work, as well as to chat with the inmates to understand how they got interested in art, and how the program benefited them.
The general response was that they learnt art in prison. Even though most already possessed an innate artistic talent, they only harnessed it in prison. Getting involved in the program was also a way to help reduce the sentences for some of the inmates.
What grabbed my attention was the response of the sketch artist who did our portrait.
Maynard- “I’ve never considered myself an articulate speaker, so once I figured out I could draw a little bit, that was kind of my mode of communication…that’s how I chose to communicate. I don’t believe in words. I’d rather be considered a doer than to talk. Everybody talks real nice but nothing ever comes from it. This is my way of expressing myself. It’s a lot more substance than words, this will last forever…, this will outlast me and anything I say.”
Maynard’s dream is to increase his fan base, so, God-willing, if he gets back to the “free world”, hopefully, it would be an easier transition. He never did art as a living before, it was always more of a hobby. So he doesn’t just want to just depend on the annual exhibitions to push himself. He wants to try and get a website up where he’ll sell prints, originals, jerseys, t-shirts, and other really nice stuff to make you feel good about Trinidad.
When I met Cleophus Maynard this year, he was genuinely glad to see us both. I was quite surprised that he remembered Aaron and I from two years ago. He especially remembered the portrait he did for us, because he knew how difficult it was to get the curls in my hair right. I always remembered that day in 2016 was also the first time Aaron referred to me as his wife, although we were engaged…a bit of a special moment for me.
Below is a tribute to Mr. Maynard’s great works of art.
At this year’s art show, I also chatted with one of the Program Officers to get a viewpoint from the Prison Service on the impact of the art programme.
A program officer’s perspective
“We more or less supervise the inmates. We allow them the time to be creative. It helps them with their rehabilitation. It helps them as a coping mechanism as they serve their sentence. They are taught that it is one of the means that they can utilize to earn a living as well, which can be used to assist their families on the outside as well.”
“It’s nice facilitating the opportunity. We are there to see them from scratch, up till the finished product.”
“Through the efforts of the Raj Yoga Society and the Prison Service we come out and showcase their work to the general public. We are there from the inception to the end product. It has been a rewarding one to see it reach this stage and to see the accomplished reaction too.
This has been the 9th exhibition so far. We have been to Trincity and Gulf City Mall. This is nothing new to the inmates. The more we expose their work, the more we take them around the country for other people to see, can only enhance the program.”
“This is for the public to understand what goes on behind the prison. Some people have the notion that inmates are just locked away and restricted. They get to see what goes on.”
“This shows the public that hey! There is a lot of creativity in the prison and it shows the public how they utilize their time in prison. There are a lot of benefits derived from it. It is a means through which the inmates can express themselves.”
“At times they do donations such as to the cathedral. In the past we had a couple of ministers buying pieces… celebrities buying pieces and other members of the public who would lend their support through buying the artworks and encouraging them as they go along in their artwork.”
Besides the art programme, there are other prison rehabilitation programmes such as: Basic Literacy, School leaving and CXC level programs, various skills training programs, religious programs, meditation programs through the service of the at the Raj Yoga Centre, and drug rehabilitation.
Did you know?
The inmates also make their own frames for their artwork.
When Aaron and I attended the art show this year, it felt as though the time was not enough to capture everything in one day. So, Aaron attended the exhibit the next day while I was at work to take more pictures and chat with the inmates. As a pre-wedding gift, he commissioned Maynard to do a portrait of me. (It’s the photo at the beginning of this post.) Aaron said Maynard spent 6 hours working on it. When others enquired as to why he was spending so much time on the drawing, he simply said, “They are my family! They come to check me every year, so I want to make this special.” This was very heart-warming to hear, and I appreciate the art piece very much. Thank you Mr. Maynard!
Despite all the negativity associated with the prison system, it is still good to know that inmates are channelling their energy in a positive way. At this year’s art show, over fifty-seven (57) pieces of art from eight (8) inmates were on display, all depicting the theme: “A New Dawn.” Below we share with you a video showcasing the art pieces seen at the exhibition.We hope you enjoy them as much as we did!
Till next year June!
Interested in purchasing the inmates artwork? Or commissioning a sketch?
Contact: Programs & Industry, New Street, Port of Spain
Give/request the Name of Piece, or for more information.
Author: Nadine Ali
Editor & Videos Creator: A. Peter
11 thoughts on “The Art of Rehabilitation”
With the public perception of high crime rates, a perception which I also share, I confess I tend to have little sympathy for the incarcerated. This piece was interesting because it may have softened my opinion of prisoners. Thank you Nadine for changing my mind… A little.
This was a very insightful piece of writing! Thank you for sharing your experiences and highlighting the local talent we have here in Trinidad. As an artist myself, I can relate to the expressive and rehabilitative power of art.
Lovely capture of the Prison Service Inmates’ Art Exhibition and excellent writing. Trinidad is blessed with talents and every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures. Look forward to many more articles and best wishes
This was very insightful and inspirational! Keep up the great work!
This was a really interesting article. I admit that I had no idea that this goes on behind the prison’s walls. This article gives me a new insight to that. So thank you very much.
The art pieces are wonderfully drawn and I am glad that you’ve visited throughout the years and that you use this platform to help showcase some of the talents.
I have a question though. I understand that Mr. Maynard knows you and Aaron and he is very artistic. But how many inmates are actually pursuing the art behind those prison walls? It’s hard to imagine that most of the would be willing to even try (no judgement on my part) because of the much “fast-paced” life they’ve lived.
Thank you again for this article. I really enjoyed it and I hope to see more in the future.
Thank you for taking the time to write this Nadine! What a wonderful experience both you and Aaron had to see this artist and witness him use his talents! I especially loved the part where you mentioned “the first time he called you his wife” How sweet!! Keep writing and sharing. Sher.
Thanks Sher! It’s always a team effort, both Aaron and I.
Many people in Trinidad don’t understand and appreciate the meaning of life. For someone such as yourself to take recognation of someone , whom society has literally closed it’s door to, would definitely give hope to Mr. MAYNARD and those such as himself. Some times due to circumstances people make mistakes but it is what they do after the mistake is actually what matters.
Enjoyed the read Nadine, keep up the good work.
Thank you Govindra! Your support is much appreciated!
This is real interesting! Great article and the art is amazing.