Exhibit Shows Humanity Behind Bars

By Gloria Angelina Castillo, EGP Staff Writer

Sister Mary Sean Hodges holds up “Alas de Gracia y Serenidad” by Rafael Casillas, as an example of a color illustration created by a prisoner without access to conventional paint or colored pencils colors. (EGP Photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo)

Sister Mary Sean Hodges holds up “Alas de Gracia y Serenidad” by Rafael Casillas, as an example of a color illustration created by a prisoner without access to conventional paint or colored pencils colors. (EGP Photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo)

People who don’t know someone who is incarcerated may have trouble seeing any beauty in California’s convicts, but an art show that benefits programs for families of the incarcerated, victims of violent crimes, and newly released prisoners, gives a glimpse of the talent that’s locked-up.

For the third year in a row, the Office of Restorative Justice, a non-profit project of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, held a benefit art fair and exhibit at Homeboy Industries on Oct. 3.

Sister Mary Sean Hodges, director of the Partnership for Re-Entry Programs, says the art exhibit raises funds for three programs, Re-Entry, Victim’s Ministry and Families of the Incarcerated, all under the umbrella of the Office of Restorative Justice. Sales help fund family bus trips to prisons and helps prisoners re-enter and adjust to society. The program also helps the families of violent crime victims, who have been harmed or murdered.

“This exhibit is a strong avenue of education, that these inmates that we work with are beautiful persons who have rights, dignity—the same as all of us,” Sister Hodges said. “I think that’s probably our primary goal, the education of people, [that] there’s a human, a person behind all this.”

Sister Hodges says the problem is not just that prisoners are criminals, but that they are addicts.

“And addictions have a person work out of their realm of humanity, rights, beauty because of the drugs. So when they are in prisons and they are not on drugs, the beauty of the person comes out,” she said.

Jose Marquina, 50, an Orange County resident who lived in South LA, and Bell Gardens for a short time, was among those in attendance. Marquina told EGP he has been a productive member of society for 10 years but he served two sentences for a combined 15 years in the past.

“A lot of people they hear ‘prison,’ ‘inmates,’ they think everybody is bad, and that’s not true. I mean thank God we’ve got prisons because there are some mean people in there, they’re just straight cruel, and some of them shouldn’t get out but not all of them are like that,” Marquina said. “The majority of them…they were loaded when they did this stupid stuff, they got life sentences because of it.”

He speculated that 80 percent of California’s prison population is serving time for crimes they committed while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. He also said he feels the “Three-Strikes Law” unjustly gave many young men life sentences.

Nonetheless, he considers the time he spent behind jail a blessing, because he might otherwise be dead, he said.
Marquina says he spent his last sentence, 10 years for robbery, taking classes that helped him get a job when he out. He says he considers himself lucky because he still had the support of his family.

“A lot of these guys, they’re in there [for decades] a lot of them, their mother dies, their brother moves out of state, so when they get out they don’t have any one to help them,” said Marquina.

Marquina says he doesn’t have a lot of money but tries to send letters and birthday cards to give prisoners the will to live—and if buying a picture helps, he’ll do his part, he added.

The artwork styles at the exhibit varied according to the resources available to the prisoners, said Sister Hodges. Those in solitary confinement had little to no paper or other supplies, but the work helps them heal and resolve issues they have from being victims and victimizing others.

“Many of them have deep explanations for what they do… I don’t think we get any piece that don’t come with meaning for them,” she said.

Among the paintings were works by Filogonia Carrillo who has a son in prison and paints to support the program.

Originally from Jalisco, Mexico, the Los Angeles resident for almost 40 years told said her son is serving time for shooting his friend while under the influence. Sister Hodges is helping Carrillo appeal her son’s life sentence conviction, for the crime he committed as a 17-year-old.

“I tell my son paint,” she said. “It helps them be motivated.”

Alex Topete estimates that 300 paintings and illustrations were on exhibit from 18 prisons in California, and prices were affordable with most ranging from $10 to $25.

The exhibit takes place once a year, but the organization survives on donations received throughout the year, Topete said.

Sister Hodges says the exhibit raised $9,000 but their office is still  having financial difficulty.

“Money isn’t as available, even for this art show. When we put out for sponsorships, we didn’t get as much as last year, I don’t know how our sales went today, money is tight every where so we all have to be creative to keeping out work going,” she said.

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October 15, 2009  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.


One Response to “Exhibit Shows Humanity Behind Bars”

  1. maribel carrillo on September 18th, 2010 5:59 pm

    I remember when I was a Child, back in mexico. me and my Family we were poor. But we have an aunt Filogonia Carrillo who visit every year my town Villa Hidalgo Jalisco Mexico. To visit her mother Dolores Gonzales and to us, by then I never think how she did this.(every year she give to us clothes, shoes, tenis shoes, toys a lot of things ) and we were waiting for her, every year. For long, long time. almost 20 years. She was a wonderful aunt. and I am very tankfull for all she did. But she was also a god mother she give everiting to her kids, but we fail to her, on one way or another but she always was there and she is always here. tanks tia Filo
    Te amo.

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