Free Prison Arts Exhibition Highlights Creativity Over Confinement  

by | Aug 19, 2022

Article written by: Julia Casey

While serving their sentences, artists like James Pinder from Cheshire Correctional Institution have found ways to escape the cinderblocks and connect with themselves through creative endeavors. As a long-time participant in Community Partners in Action’s Prison Arts program, Pinder said, “Prison removes everything you’ve ever loved in life, but creating can never be taken away. Anyone can find a brief escape and a moment of expression.” 

Two of Pinder’s colored-pencil works, along with sculptures by many other incarcerated artists, are now on display at Old New-Gate in a dedicated exhibition space in the visitor center. Floor and wall display cases were built by incarcerated carpentry students at the State of Connecticut’s Cheshire Correctional Institution.  

Jeffrey Greene, CPA’s Prison Arts Program Manager since 1991, encourages his students to explore unique and personal pursuits to create art that is life giving for them, and for all who see through their lens. The first rule of the program has become, “make artwork that only exists because you exist.” 

Other three-dimensional artwork currently on display includes a crocheted bacon-cheeseburger hat, a huge mountain castle made from 150lbs of soap, bugs from electrical wire, an ornate and whimsical peace pipe made from cardboard, soap, and acrylic paint, Native American pottery made from toilet paper, and complex geometric abstractions made from paper, pencils, threads from bed sheets, and more.  

The new installation which has attracted local visitors to the tune of 100 people a day is particularly significant given the artwork is housed at the site of the first state prison in North America. Site Administrator Morgan Bengel believes the work offers a powerful glimpse into prison life and a stark contrast to the punitive methods of yesteryear. This included the inhumane incarceration of people in the dark and dank abandoned copper mine at Old New-Gate.  

“Incorporating modern voices, via art and other mediums is crucial to understanding the important themes of our interpretation, particularly that of confinement and justice,” said Morgan. 

The partnership between Community Partners in Action and Old New-Gate Prison & Copper Mine focuses on preserving human dignity for those imprisoned while ensuring people’s restoration as they transition into the community.  

  • Learn more about CPA’s Prison Arts Program and the Annual Show that will be held December 2022 – February 2023 at Eastern Connecticut State University in Willimantic.