Maine prisoners’ artwork to be on display at Portland Media Center

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The exhibition “Freedom and Captivity: Maine Voices Beyond Prison Walls” will be on display at the Portland Media Center on Congress Street until October 2021.

PORTLAND, Maine – If you walk past the Portland Media Center on Congress Street, a display in the large glass window may catch your eye. A bald eagle sculpture, with realistic claw and feather details, and a glossy butterfly vase, carved in mahogany, are placed for the world to see. The craftsmanship is impressive, but the artist actually comes from a very non-traditional background.

“My sentence is 75 years and I have been here for 25 years. I arrived when I was 20,” Charlie Jones, 45, told NEWS CENTER Maine via Zoom of his time in prison. State of Maine. He is the man behind the making of these works of art, but he has said that sculpture is a relatively new hobby for him. He discovered crafts in the prison industries program.

“At 20, I didn’t think I had any special skills,” Jones recalls, also noting that he still doesn’t consider himself an artist. He said that sculpting is therapeutic for him, going through the step-by-step movements to achieve a final product. It’s also a way of thinking about something other than what he calls the “worst mistake” he ever made that got him to jail.

“When I look back, the thing I tell myself 10 to 15 times a day is, ‘Dude, you were so stupid,’” Jones said, shaking his head.

He also said he can sometimes feel like he is serving “someone else’s sentence” as he says he has changed and grown since his crime.

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Jones is one of many Maine prisoners whose artwork has been featured in the Portland Media Center’s “Freedom and Captivity: Voices of Maine Beyond Jail Walls” exhibit since September. For many, knowing that their work would be publicly displayed was a goal. Jan Collins, deputy director of the Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition, said it was important.

“In order for us to free people who are good neighbors, we have to treat them like we would treat anyone: humanely,” Collins said.

She said most people in prison will be released at some point, and honing their skills while in prison could make this process more fruitful.

“There is nothing more important than to feel all worthy of being here on this planet,” Collins said.

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Another purpose of the exhibit is to show visitors to the Union of Maine Visual Artists gallery another side of prisoners.

“I think people are surprised at the work that comes out of this, but they also forget that we are all multifaceted. We are human beings,” Lesley MacVane, director of development at Portland Media Center and liaison between the UMVA gallery and Center, said.

McVane said that people’s creative instincts are strong and creating artwork helps people express their emotions in healthy ways and feel a sense of pride.

“The people whose art we see here are more than an act that they did at some point in their lives,” MacVane said.

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The works of art on display in this exhibition range from sculptures and paintings, to poems, music and knitting, and more. Some pieces deal with the incarceration of the artist, others not. The exhibition will last until October 2021.



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