At a time when the arts suffer major funding restrictions and arts programs are the first to be cut in schools, we discover that the arts are flourishing in the most unlikely place – behind bars. Phoenix House’s Substance Abuse Treatment Program at the Chuckawalla Valley State Prison in Blythe, California is the location of this amazing display of creativity. While the SAT Program does not have a formal art therapy component, through the initiative of the Program Director, Christopher Wellington and with the support of the Prison’s Warden and other staff, Phoenix House’s clients and alumni have been able to decorate its offices and classrooms with colorful and inspirational murals, paintings and drawings.
A set of murals with tranquil nature scenes (spring, summer and fall with waterfalls in the forest) is a gift of a program graduate who had completed his sentence and was released. Other artworks were created by men enrolled in the program, using a variety of resources provided by Phoenix House – paper, pencils, markers, paints, etc. They spent their holidays and free time on their projects and are proud of their achievements.
Phoenix House SAT Program Director, Christopher Wellington stated: “I see the arts as a vehicle of self expression and a way of articulating feelings that were bottled up and suppressed. As such, artistic activities are very helpful in the healing process and have a therapeutic value. As a result of this activity, the completed paintings and drawings decorate our offices, hallways and classrooms. They provide inspiration and a welcoming environment for our clients while the men undergo treatment, learn and prepare for a new life in the community.”
The SAT Program provides evidence-based substance abuse treatment, cognitive behavioral therapy, anger management, wellness classes, pre-employment preparation, and other services to incarcerated men that receive treatment for 150 days. The Program serves about 120 men at any given time and offers group and individual sessions, educational seminars and other services in a therapeutic community environment.
Below is a selection of artwork created by current and former inmates of the Chuckawalla Valley State Prison. Congratulations and a heartfelt ‘thank-you’ to the artists: Manuel, Tony, Orlando, Thomas, and Jose Antonio!