“Getting caught saved my life,” incarcerated artist Steve C. writes on one side of the painting. On the other, he writes, “Getting caught taught me accountability but dehumanized me.” Steve’s work is on display at Meetinghouse Arts this week as part of “Inside Vision: An Outside Exhibition of Inside Art,” a traveling art show highlighting experiences behind bars. Artwork by Steve C., photo by Kristian Moravec / The Times Record

Meetinghouse Arts in Freeport is hosting a display of artwork made behind bars, offering commentary of the impact that the Maine justice system has on those convicted of crimes.

The traveling art collection, “Inside Vision: An Outside Exhibition of Inside Art,” went on display last weekend at the Main Street gallery. The collection features 16 artists and a dozen more poets, all of whom are incarcerated or formerly incarcerated Mainers, and is organized by the Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition, a coalition that aims to improve conditions for inmates, former inmates, their families, victims of crime and others.

At the request of each correctional facility, the artists — save a few who have been released from prison — are anonymous. Despite this, visitors are often brought to tears with such an intimate and confronting look into life behind bars, according to Jan Collins of MPAC.

“The only thing we know about them is their crime,” Collins said, referring to how society views incarcerated people.

She explained that when people die, for instance, those who have never been incarcerated are remembered by their accomplishments, while those who have been in prison are not. She also stated that the incarcerated are only in prison because they were caught.

“I’ve never met someone who has not broken the law,” she said.


Collins said that the materials used in the featured artwork often depend on the security level of the prison. In high-security situations, very few art materials are given to those incarcerated, while a medium-security facility might have a dedicated art room.

Several pieces comment on the nature of Maine incarceration. In one painting of a bear titled “Caught,” an artist known as Steve C. uses painted text to express the complex feelings he has toward his imprisonment.

“Getting caught saved my life,” he writes on one side of the painting. On the other, he writes, “Getting caught taught me accountability but dehumanized me.”

Incarcerated artist JRG used paper bags from the trash and floor wax to create this untitled piece, according to Jan Collins of MPAC. Artwork by JRG, photo by Kristian Moravec / The Times Record

One artist, credited in the gallery as the initials JRG, created works with items he found in his prison.

“I am kenneled at Maine State Prison in the close custody unit (maximum security),” JRG writes in a statement next to two of his pieces. “We have no art supplies, but I use the materials around such as this paper bad most throw away after its use. I want to make it so you want it forever.”

Because of his higher security level, Collins said, the artist is only allotted tiny colored pencils for creating, while he finds the rest of the materials on his own. Two of the wall hangings are sealed with floor wax, creating a glossy effect. He also crafted a bonsai tree made with floor waxing sponges, fit with a tiny nest featuring red, speckled eggs.

“You can see,” Collins said, “people create no matter what.”

A panel related to the collection will take place this Saturday from 6-8 p.m. at Meetinghouse Arts. Doors open at 5:30 p.m.

The collection is on display until Sunday, June 16. Meetinghouse Arts is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on Sundays from noon to 4 p.m.

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