Punishment for its own sake is pointless if it doesn’t transform the mindsets and attitudes of offenders. A prison can become a dangerous breeding ground for criminals, fuelling the very activity it seeks to deter.
Incarcerated individuals have little control over their circumstances or future. Years of confinement result in greater loss of self-worth, a growing sense of anger, anxiety and despair. Families of the incarcerated are also doing time. The burden can be crippling. Half of all male children of inmates will also enter the system as juveniles. Ex-offenders find that freedom from the impact of incarceration does not end at the moment of release.
Years of built-up anger and frustration accompany them as they transition back into the community. Many return to committing crimes within a year of release. The overcrowding that exists in many institutions adds to the anger and frustration of inmates which result in more frequent altercations between inmates and increased threat of staff assault.
Could expressive art therapy be the healing balm necessary for such a grim situation?
A team of art therapy facilitators from NGO Khula Aasman are achieving through watercolour painting, mural making and clay work, the hard-to-find catharsis in art for inmates. Under Project Inner Light – The Prison Project, they are working with Prayas, TISS and Tata Trusts for enhancing the mental health of inmates using a combination of music, drama, visual art and relaxation techniques. These are men and women undergoing court proceedings or under trial from various social classes.
“There seemed to be a lack of group work so we began the mural painting session and took up representing meaningful artwork on the entrance wall and the inside wall of a classroom assigned to them. This activity acted as a bonding agent for some women,” says Sarita Ganesh, founder, Khula Aasman.
The inmates doodle and create small religious idols, pictures of their homes, villages and family members. Some of the art is so good, it is hand-stitched onto recycled fabric for framing for sale to corporate houses. Proceeds from the sale go towards art material for the incarcerated in Yerawada, Nashik, Pune and Byculla jails. Adds Sarita, “There was mural painting one session where the women prisoners painted on a large scale as a team. There was immense laughter, relaxation and creative release.”
There are immense creative possibilities of exposing more inmates to the expressive art therapy process. With a clear improvement in their mental state, they are finding catharsis in art. There is a high possibility for empowering them to deal with their inner and outer chaos in independent ways.