Rikers Moms Connect With Children Through Art

A Brooklyn artist is using murals as a form of communication between incarcerated women and their children. Read more.

 

 

August

 Dear If Walls Could Talk family:

From mothers to police officers, teenagers to teamsters, people passing in fancy BMWs to people collecting bottles and cans, I’ve never gotten such positive, engaged, emotional responses to a project. Every day, more and more people would come who had heard about the mural to share their story about their own incarceration, their friend/family’s experiences, etc. In my 10 years of doing murals, I’ve been fortunate to bear witness to the emotional relationship/response people can have with art and topics addressed in art. This project has kind of taken it to another level though- there were so many tears and so many hugs! My hope is that the tears lead to continued action. 

One remarkable thing about doing this kind of work is being able to see, every day, just how much people have in common on the most human of levels. I guess it is something we all know, but working on the street every day it is just so blatant. Cops who patrolled the block and the local gang members who live there both came by to tell me that they had both been posting pictures of the project on Instagram.  And moms who live at the transitional housing nearby for women transitioning from incarceration to independent living shared the exact same emotional response as the upper-income home owner mother who just bought property in the neighborhood. 

Lots of love and my continued gratitude,

Katie

….

….

September

Dear Kickstarter Friends and Family,

The mural dedication came and went in a blur. It was a wonderful event and supporters filled the street. We had a beautiful day for the event. Family members of the women in the group, participating kids, kickstarter funders, members of the Dept. of Corrections, local politicians and so many friends came to celebrate. The artwork created in the jail was all matted on presentation boards so guests could see the process that went into creating the mural, as well as the beautiful work the mothers created for their children on a daily basis.

Dept. of Corrections Asst. Commissioner of Program Development and Community Relations Winette Saunders-Halyard spoke gave a heartfelt address about how this project and the support of this project represents a cultural shift in society on how we think and dialogue about incarceration. 

Assemblyman Robert Rodriguez also gave an address, as did Christina Holdridge from the Incarcerated Mothers Program in East Harlem. The children and superhero grandmothers were presented with certificates and the grand finale was an incredible original song by Carllie Jaxen. The song is called “We are One,” and it almost felt like the mural was created to reflect the song. It was really powerful and after some technical complications, she ended up singing a cappella. Her voice and her words filled the streets and drew even more people to the event.

Nightingale Bakery and Evelyn’s Bakery both donated sweets- a giant red velvet cake and brownies. Assemblyman Rodriguez’s office brought sparkling cider and cases of water. It was truly a community effort and event.  Some great friends took over catering responsibilities and passed out cake and drinks to everyone on the block. 

Yesterday, I packed up all of the artwork that the mothers created and put it in the mail to their children and families. Each of the mothers also received an 8×10 print of the mural they designed. 
Considering their artwork, I came across a quote I read at both dedications from an unexpected source:

I remember my mother’s prayers and they have always followed me.  They have clung to me all my life.  ~Abraham Lincoln

Through the course of the project, the mothers’ artwork started to kind of feel like prayers to their children. So much love, so much intention went into every brushstroke, every line drawn. I like to think of the kids getting these packets in the mail and feeling enveloped in their mother’s love, prayers and best intentions.

Finally, and again . . . thank you so much. The way this project was funded meant so much not only to me, but to the participating mothers and families. There is a profound sense of being forgotten on the inside of jail especially for the women, who at Rikers, receive the fewest visitors on the entire island. That so many people cared enough to make this project happen gave them hope and made them feel connected to life outside the jail. The dialogue that happened both inside and outside among funders and their communities was also a priceless component to the project. I am now being invited to speak at a few events and write a few articles/blogs about this experience. My greatest hope is that this kind of project will just spread and spread. 

 Please keep in touch and from the bottom of my heart, thank you so very much.

All my love,

Katie