Art class provides positive path for incarcerated young women at Oak Creek
“My drawing is of a woman named Alice Paul and she helped get the 19th Amendment to become a thing. A quality I share with Alice Paul is the quality of strength. She used strength to fight for her rights, I am using strength to fight the stereotypes of incarcerated youth and to become the woman I want to be.”
When LBCC instructor Anne Magratten was asked to teach a college art class to young women incarcerated at Oak Creek Youth Correctional Facility, she jumped at the chance. Art can be deeply therapeutic, says Magratten, and can allow us to focus on something positive despite our circumstances.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, girls now account for a larger percentage of students behind bars than they did a decade ago.
“Everything I have seen about rates of recidivism shows that repeat offenses drop dramatically when people have access to education,” said Magratten.
For the Oak Creek high school students who took Magratten’s Drawing I class, the experience provided them the opportunity to show that they could be successful taking a college-level class.
To challenge the young women, Magratten developed a unique portraiture project that blended basic drawing techniques with a conceptual writing component. What the young women did not know was that the subjects Magratten chose for them to draw had one thing in common: they had all been incarcerated.
“Everything I have seen about rates of recidivism shows that repeat offenses drop dramatically when people have access to education.”
“There’s a social stigma around arrest,” said Magratten. “This art project let these young women learn about other individuals who were also arrested, such as Coretta Scott King, but whose arrest was often due to a greater social justice issue such as voting, or fighting for their rights, or even just wearing pants.”
For the writing component of the project, the students were asked to identify one strength she had in common with her chosen subject, and then write a paragraph about that strength to go with her drawing. Finding a positive connection can be powerful.
“The young women at Oak Creek are exceptional,” said Magratten. “They bring a wide range of life experiences to the classroom, and there’s a willingness to be real and authentic about their experiences, which can inform class discussions. These women are some of my favorite students to work with.”
“My drawing is of Euna Lee. Lee is a Korean American journalist. She and fellow journalist Laura Ling were arrested in North Korea in 2009 and sentenced to 12 years of hard labor for allegedly “refusing to stop filming” on the border of North Korea and China. We have in common the fact that we both believe in speaking for the truth.”
LBCC has a long history of teaching at Oak Creek Youth Correctional Facility, which has two high schools on its Albany campus. LBCC instructors currently teach art, communication, career exploration and Spanish at Oak Creek, with a future goal to offer science and math classes.
Most of the young women incarcerated at Oak Creek are working on earning a high school diploma or GED. Once released from incarceration, the opportunity provided to these young women to take college classes can make a difference in their lives going forward.