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Aug 16, 2006

Prison art: straight from the heart

Story PictureThere are two areas of Belizean life that have clearly improved over the last eight years. One is the arts and the other is the prison. Today they combined in the form of a unique exhibition. News Five’s Alyssa Noble reports from Hattieville.

Yasser Musa, President, NICH
?I think that art should never be forgotten in a society, and I think Belize is now coming of age. In terms of how it vies what art can do for its citizens and society.?

Alyssa Noble, Reporting
This week is being celebrated as Kolbe week, and today the Kolbe Foundation, operator of Hattieville prison, proudly opened it?s first ever Arts and Craft exhibition, demonstrating the finer talents of the not so refined.

John Woods, Chairman, Kolbe Foundation
?This is kind of highlighting what is produced back here. We have phenomenal artists within the fence here, so it?s kind of displaying what is possible here and the potential we have in here. We have so much talent within the walls, or within the gate or the fence and so we are promoting it. We?ve had a tremendous amount of help with Yasser and Michelle Perdomo. We?ve sent people down the St. John?s College, and we are always trying to promote it, because it?s an answer. You know for a guy to go out and continue his art, he doesn?t need a police record to do it.?

And according to Michelle Perdomo, Head of the Art Department at St. John?s, the inmates weren?t the only ones to benefit from the programme.

Michelle Perdomo, Head of Art Dept., S.J.C.
?Initially, I was scared. I had, I guess, a lot of the usual stereotypes, about the prison and like that, so I was a bit timid and he said, oh you?ll love it, you?ll love it. I said ok, I?ll try it, and I absolutely fell in love with the guys. They are so talented, so well behaved and they are my favourite group of students. They?ve just been wonderful and they?ve changed my whole idea of the prison. It?s amazing all the different opportunities that they have here.?

But it wasn?t always like this. While the Kolbe Foundation is now able to offer a host of classes including jewellery making and tailoring, according to Foundation Chairman John Woods, reaching this stage hasn?t been easy.

John Woods
?After the first two years, we were in the trenches. We were just trying to get the basics: better food, better living conditions and better treatment. Trying to promote this brotherly love concept that we need to learn to live by, because we are all brothers and if we are all brothers, we need to take care of one another. But once people started trusting the Kolbe Foundation, the prisoners themselves, and then we?ve been promoting these other things. We have thirty classrooms in there that are going all the time.?

And the inmates share that enthusiasm.

Chester Stewart Jr., Inmate
?I?ve been coming in and out this place for years. It?s an expression of my feelings, things that I have to do to apply to my life like: speak no evil, see no evil, hear no evil. That?s the only way I probably could make it. The art came from an inspiration from within. So I just want to world to know, that this piece of work that I?ve done here came from within. This is what I love to do, I love to do this. When they take this from me it is like they are really messing me up if they take this from me.?

Lenton Polonio, Inmate
?My art mostly do with abstract pieces. I do abstract art, basically just relieve my stress into my work, you know. They?re inmates here doing a lot of time you know. Me, I specialize in art, you know. I love art, so thanks to Kolbe Foundation for giving me permission to do my art.?

Reporting for News Five, I am Alyssa Noble.

According to Perdomo, St. John’s College will offer scholarships to paroled inmates interested in finishing primary or high school at S.J.C. extension.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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