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The Jailhouse Rocks with Art

by Gail Sachson 27 Sep 2011 11:35 AM

Guest blogger Gail Sachson explains how an art program is helping female inmates.


Gail Sachson owns Ask Me About Art offering lectures, tours and program planning. She is Chair of the Cultural Affairs Commission and a member of the Public Art Committee.

The only thing missing at the second annual Resolana Westside Music Festival on Saturday was Elvis himself singing “Jailhouse Rock.” But even without him, the warehouse at 511 W. Commerce – just blocks from the jail – rocked with the music of Wolf at the Door and The Velvet Living Room. The crowd gathered to raise money through admission fees and a silent auction to fund the creative programming that the non-profit Resolana provides for female inmates  – the fastest growing jail population. Sheriff Lupe Valdez, a strong supporter of the program and honorary chair of the festival, was there and delighted with the attendance.

Resolana, a Spanish word meaning “the sunny side of the plaza,” is  all about spreading that warmth to the  64 women now enrolled in the Resolana program through yoga, dance, painting, collage-making and doll dressing.  Yolanda Lara, the director of inmate programs, says that the program is selective and voluntary. The  group is isolated from the general jail population. The women live together and keep a busy schedule Monday through Friday, taking two hourlong workshops that offer holistic, gender-sensitive rehabilitative programming. The Resolana mission is to  encourage these  women, most victims of trauma or addiction, to use their time in custody to develop the skills, tools and resources to break the cycle of incarceration. And they do it through art.

“The arts are trying to carve out a role for themselves now,” Program and volunteer coordinator Jennifer McNabb says. “Where do they fit in in the jail and what is their purpose?”

McNabb believes that creative programming with a therapeutic edge can encourage rehabilitation.  McNabb points out two successful art programs, the results of which were exhibited at the music festival: self-portrait paper collages and good-girl/bad girl dolls.

Under the guidance of trained professionals and with the help of volunteers (more than 100 people have volunteered and orientation workshops are held monthly), the portraits  stimulate  honest discussion of dreams, hopes and  hopelessness. “I love myself and I am a beautiful princess” are words written above a picture of a smiling torn-paper collaged face. But another next to it reads, “As time goes on here I sit for time to remember me.” The average stay in jail is three to six months.

Making good girl/bad girl dolls involves covering an approximately 8-inch muslin unadorned, faceless doll with beads, buttons, lace, gingham, fringe – whatever has been donated. The idea is to break stereotypes and misconceptions and to show that what people look like on the outside is not necessarily who they are on the inside. Each inmate is given two dolls to decorate.  While they design, they talk. They laugh. They cry. The dolls, too, were exhibited and would have caused a bidding war had they been permitted to be sold. What was offered for sale, however, were the dolls decorated by community organizations and a select group of artists. Even one by Sheriff Valdez. I bought her doll, which  I assume  is a good girl doll since it sports a sheriff’s badge.

The doll-making kits are $15 each. To organize a doll-making workshop to support Resolana, e-mail [email protected]