In prison, women sometimes have the opportunity for the first time in their lives to discover that they are good at school, drama, advocacy or any number of things.  Where they’ve lacked the opportunity or the environment to teach them in a manner suited to their learning style, with the right teacher, it can surprise people what they are capable of.  

Stride, a restorative justice reintegration program, partnered with Art Shine for exactly this purpose. Paul,  like all of the instructors at Art Shine, was skilled at working with people who were inexperienced or intimidated at the thought of painting.  Leading 1.5 hour instructional sessions in the gym at Grand Valley Institution for women over the course of several years, they walked women step-by-step through a guided process of painting landscapes, working with clay, and other forms of art.  

Their instructors were highly encouraging and approachable, celebrating the skills they saw emerging as well as the creative ways people were making their pieces unique.  Whether or not masterpieces were created, the room was always filled with people highly focused on their task as well as so much laughter at the fun they were having making it. 

As a larger project, Stride wanted to commission a large piece of art which would bring the voices of the community into the prison.  Paul and his team created and facilitated the creation of a large tree with leave written on by community members sending women in prison messages of hope, care and concerns and encouragement. This massive and gorgeous piece now hangs in the main hallway at GVI and serves as a daily reminder to people incarcerated there that people in our region care about people in prison. 

Kate Crozier Director of Programs at CJI