Armed with my laptop, a stack of magazines, a pad of tracing paper, and somewhat of a general idea of what form this session will take with the residents of New Castle County Detention Center, I enter the building. Aimee Ellis, the volunteer coordinator and Debbie Mellor the volunteer yoga teacher are already inside the locked doors. I am buzzed in, sign in, hand over my driver’s license and car keys, get “wanded” front and back and the 3 of us go behind the steel doors.

I am into month 2 of a 10 month residency at NCCDC through Peacework, a local non profit organization that works with abused, neglected or incarcerated children. Barbara Desjardins, a spry 80 year old angel of a woman is one of the founders  offering art, as well as yoga, gardening, and music to these kids. My residency is made possible by a first time generous grant from a local foundation.

Mandala in progress, foam stamp with marker at NCCDC

Mandala in progress, foam stamp with marker at NCCDC

6 weeks into my residency, I feel it taking form, slowly but surely. Our goal is to design and execute a mural on a large blank white cinderblock wall. I’m not able to take pictures but the process is being documented by staff at NCDCC and when I get them- I will share them.

Up to this point we have been working with different materials and processes. We’ve done painting and relief printmaking; rolling ink on the elaborate pattern found on the bottoms of their sneakers, and printing them in patterns in large circles they have drawn on brown craft paper. They became shields, like a family crest with bright primary colors in random or well thought out patterns and designs. We also created personal stamps and printing these unique symbols as mandalas-circles with patterns inside that represent the universe, or self.

Printmaking foam stamp

Mandala, foam printed personal stamps at NCCDC

Each session begins with yoga or a warm up exercise and we end in a circle with our work. There is insight and thoughtfulness as well as typical teenage bravado and kidding around. Some have shared that this is a time to forget about their problems. And they have many. These kids are in for serious crimes. However, I know the power of art-to heal, to create community, and to bring peace and beauty into our complicated lives, one workshop at a time.

Stay tuned.

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