Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Behind the Bricks

Write what disturbs you, what you fear, 
what you have not been willing to speak about. 
Be willing to be split open.” 
― Natalie GoldbergWriting Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within
Behind the Bricks is an innovative writing and visual art project from the Crow Wing County Jail in Minnesota. It is a significant step in the rehabilitation process for those who are incarcerated to be connected to an outside artistic community. Inmates were provided an opportunity to explore literary and visual arts by expressing their emotions and thoughts through prose, poetry and art. The heart and soul of this project were the volunteers and workers who brought the arts to the inmates offering them hope to turn their life around and improve their feelings of self-worth.

The literacy program at the Crow Wing County Jail began several years ago with Fathers Reading Every Day (FRED), a national program, aimed at increasing children's success in school by promoting early literacy experiences in families. In four years the program has expanded to book clubs, writing groups and visual art classes led by instructors who guide inmates in productive self-expression. 

A grant from Five Wings Art Council with matching funds from Crossing Arts Alliance in 2014 enabled the project to expand its literacy programs to publish the book Behind the Bricks. Inmates’ published pieces and visual art work were featured in exhibits at the Crow Wing Jail and the Q Gallery in Franklin Arts Center in Brainerd, MN and several churches in the Brainerd area.

The book is divided into literary art and visual art.  I was quite taken with the quality of the work and how articulate the authors and artists were in the published pieces. Raw emotions of regret, hopelessness, despair and loneliness seem to wash over each page but yet a sense of hopefulness prevailed.  Their written work seemed to emanate an almost overpowering love for family and a strong need for support. The visual arts section featured drawings and paintings that were creative and emotional as stories unfolded on the canvases.  

Behind the Bricks shines a light into the hidden community of offenders. It serves as a reminder to us that they are simply people who struggle more with steep-edged issues than most of us. Within the pages of the book we find brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, grandchildren, wives, husbands, daughters, and parents who have made poor decisions in life, and are now paying society's price. But aside from their addictions, angers, jealousies, and angst that put them into incarceration, they are, nevertheless, fellow human beings who wish and hope for someone or something to somehow help them right their ship.

Those involved with creating this project hoped that the opportunities afforded the participating inmate writers and artisans would have an impact on their healing process and direct them to reset their lives toward being more positive and productive individuals in society.   
Books can be ordered following the link below.

 The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. 
Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision . 
So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can.
-Neil Gaiman
It was difficult choosing a piece to share from the book since many touched my heart.  
Chris Finn Jr.

In my mind's eye I despise who I've been;
In the mirror I see a foe and a friend
Locked in this concrete room.
A chance to be reborn.
Too many times I've been forewarned
Where I was going
And how I'd be my own undoing
By letting my anger explode 
Leaving me exposed.
So I pray to the Lord,
My spiritual sword,
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death
I shall fear no evil.
Through my lyrics
Let my spirit fly like an eagle. 



  1. Hmmmm, maybe I need to read this book.

    What an interesting project.

  2. Thank you, Sue.

    As one of the project managers and one who actually worked with inmates, I have to say that this is one of the best projects in which I have ever been involved. I highly recommend others to read the book. It contains raw emotion, determination and even a little humor - all of which show these inmates as the humans they are.

  3. Sue,
    Thanks for the reminder on this excellent project. I was at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Nisswa on Nov. 7 and the display of art and writings fillled a wall in the Celebration Room. It was a joy to see the original pieces displayed so beautifully. I will order from Krista at Blue Cottage Agency. The ARTS belong to everyone in our human family. Penny SWanum