search button
newscenter logo
Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Follow SDSU Follow SDSU on Twitter Follow SDSU on Facebook SDSU RSS Feed

Inmates at the Donovan Correctional Facility joined students from the San Diego State University School of Art and Design to paint a mural in a prison yard. Inmates at the Donovan Correctional Facility joined students from the San Diego State University School of Art and Design to paint a mural in a prison yard.
 


Amid a Bleak World, a Work of Art

Students and inmates collaborated on a mural scene of peace and serenity for a state prison yard.
By Georgia Burgé
 

The canvas was a gray, concrete wall. The mural depicts a Mediterranean landscape with a lush, green vineyard, mountains, bougainvillea bushes and blue skies.

It’s a wide, open scene of peace and serenity, something of a dream for the state prison inmates who now can look at it as they serve their sentences, and who joined students from the San Diego State University School of Art and Design to paint it.

The mural was created by 20 students and 15 inmates at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego’s Otay Mesa, which houses more than 3,800 convicted felons and other prisoners serving time under medium to maximum security. Prison guards surrounded the student and inmate artists as they completed the project on a single day in May.

Directed by Carlos Castro Arias, assistant professor of painting and printmaking, the students and inmates worked side-by-side to transform a wall bordering the prison’s workout area. The landscape scene was selected by the inmates, who were permitted to converse with the art students while being taught how to paint.

“I really was not anxious. The inmates are people just like myself,” said painting and printmaking student Avia Rose Ramm. “They were very friendly and fun to talk to. Some of them were very artistic and showed us their work. I could tell painting is an outlet for them like it is for me.”

Castro and his students provided some guidance and instruction to the inmates on painting techniques, but Castro said it was a very fluid, organic painting process and the inmates had a good sense of what they needed to do by reviewing the design plan and mural sketches.

Alan Mobley, associate professor of Public Affairs at SDSU, has worked at the Donovan facility previously with his criminal justice students and approached Castro with the idea to bring art to inmates in the form of a mural painting project. Castro originally hoped to create a class centering around the creation of the mural, but the permitting process to get students onto prison grounds proved time-consuming. Instead, he asked students to volunteer to help with the project during their off-school hours.

Brahman Kyrie, who teaches meditation to Donovan State Prison inmates, helped facilitate the design selection process by acting as a liaison among Castro, his students, and the inmates, Kyrie also was instrumental in helping Castro and his students complete the necessary paperwork and approval of materials for the project.

Talks with prison administration about the project began in February and included the inmates’  input on which of Castro’s submitted designs they liked best.

“It was amazing to see the project come to fruition,” said Nicolette Tuason, who was Community Resources Manager at the facility during the project. “It began as a simple idea to introduce color to the yard and promote peace and serenity in an otherwise tough environment. 

“You definitely get a sense of pride from the inmates who were also a part of the project from start to finish: from its conception to creation and completion,” Tuason added. “This mural serves as a reminder that they are more than just prisoners. They are artists who dream and hope for a brighter future.”