From The Inside Out

By Dianne Frazee-Walker

Before the painting program was adopted into the prison system in 1994, the only art displayed inside America’s correctional institutions was graffiti.  Photo courtesy easternstate.org

Today the legacy of inspirational expressions by inmates lives on.

William Borden, a former inmate walks through the narrow hallways of Eastern State Prison located in Philadelphia. Borden recalls the barbaric atmosphere of the prison when he first arrived for a brief sentence in 1967.

The medieval dungeon style penitentiary has gone through a transformation since the time it depicted a punitive environment that inmates feared. The prison has been converted into a museum.

Hand painted milieus now embellish the walls of prisons throughout the country that once confined prisoners who resided the buildings as punishment for their deviant crimes. Provincial cityscapes both conventional and fantasy decorate visiting rooms. Photographs of inmates are inserted into the scenery as mementos for family and friends.

Filmmaker, David Adler is a collector of selected art work of the outside created on the inside. Adler is sharing with the public his unique collection through November 30, 2013 at Eastern State Penitentiary, the museum that was once a prison. Adler’s collection is appropriately named “Visions of the Free World.” The museum is visited by everyone, from art enthusiasts to former guards and inmates.

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William James Association Prison Arts Project

Creating art while incarcerated in prison greatly builds the need for self-expression that is sorely missed for prisoners. Many believe that art satisfies an individuals need for creativity, self-expression, recognition and self-respect.

In 1977, a pilot project, called the William James Association Prison Arts Project was begun at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, Ca as a vision from Eloise Smith to bring the magic and mystery of the art experience to incarcerated prisoners. From this vision the Arts-in-Corrections in conjunction with the California Department of Corrections was establish, only to be terminated in 2003, due to budget crisis.

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