Guest blogger Sarah Jane Semrad is Executive Director of La Reunion TX.
Last Friday evening I had the opportunity to volunteer with local artist Nancy Rebal in the Dallas County Jail through local non-profit Resolana. We created art alongside female inmates who are in for everything from prostitution to drug use.
Resolana is fearlessly led by Bette Bruschow and the organization offers not only art classes, but also financial literacy and counseling so that incarcerated women have the empowerment to break the cycles of their lives that lead them to jail in the first place.The name comes from the Spanish word meaning “the sunny side or spot.”
We navigated security, a series of elevators and long hallways before we made it to the classrooms where we set up the art supplies – glue sticks, paper, scissors, and colored pencils. The inmates began arriving in an orderly fashion, wearing green and white striped scrubs and navy blue slip on shoes. No make up or jewelry was on any of the women.
We started with an icebreaker activity. We threw koosh balls to each other, making eye contact and calling out our names as we passed balls. It was fun and lively and for a brief moment the jail scrubs didn’t matter – we were a passel of 8-year-old girls. The women love this game and look forward to it every time Bette and company come to the jail.
The artist leading the group, Nancy Rebal, began by showing the ladies her own art. It’s personal and many women nodded in agreement to experiences Nancy has had. Children, marriage, moving, death…. When Nancy finished sharing her work, she suggested we create our own narratives with brightly colored paper, pencils, glue sticks and backgrounds.
The only sounds in the room while we were making art were paper shuffling, scissors cutting and the occasional request for additional supplies. After about 45 minutes of making narrative collages, we were each offered the opportunity to share a little about our piece.
Most of the women shared stories of pain, heartache, and regret and the wounds they carry are deep and profound. Some women weren’t able to share and simply cried as they showed their work. It was truly touching to see inmates comfort one another. The backdrop of chaotic circumstances that landed many of these women in jail becomes obvious to themselves in the harsh reality cinder blocks and fluorescent lights.
The bittersweet reality of our evening was palpable as Bette, Nancy and I left the jail. We knew these women would not be joining us as we climbed into the car and headed off into the sunset.
The ladies faces are still clear in my mind and I look forward to volunteering again in the near future. Visit Resolana.info for more info. Visit the Resolana flickr page for photos of past programs.