Expressing feelings inside

More than 150 people attended the opening ceremonies of an exhibit at the Mennonite Heritage Centre Gallery, Winnipeg, June 20, showcasing art by prisoners and ex-inmates.

“Beyond Walls: On The Road Home” was sponsored by the Mennonite Central Committee’s (MCC) Open Circle program, a volunteer-based prison visitation program aimed at befriending offenders.

expressing-feelingsAlong with the unveiling of the exhibit, the evening featured musical performances, poetry reading, and a reflection – all by former inmates.

Murray Barkman, Open Circle coordinator, said the purpose of the event was threefold.

“We did it because we wanted to give the guys a voice. Second, we wanted to change the public’s perception of what inmates are like, and third, we wanted to give them an opportunity to showcase their art by making it available for sale.”

He added that doing art often acts as a therapeutic tool for those in prison. “It’s very much an opportunity to express the feelings that are inside. For many guys the only other option is to repress all their negative feelings and not deal with the guilt and shame of their crime. Not only that, but also the shame of their own abuse.”

Jim Motherall was among those who performed original music during the evening. After putting 33 years of prison behind him, Motherall is now a landscaper in the rural community of Starbuck, Man. “Prison is designed to steal hope away from the people it houses. It’s organizations like Open Circle who come in and offer guys hope of something better. It’s like getting a drink of water when you’re really thirsty,” said Motherall.

He noted that the art exhibit can change society’s view of prisoners.

“As a rule we don’t like prisoners,” Motherall said. “But that’s exactly where the downfall begins. Stop pushing people away and start bringing them in. It makes life a whole lot richer.”

Mike Duerksen is a communications student at Canadian Mennonite University, Winnipeg.

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