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University of Michigan linked Prison Creative Arts project helps turn lives around

Posted at 6:04 PM, Sep 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-01 18:04:33-04

(WXYZ) — “It was one of the worst times of my life,” said Steven Campbell.

The last time Campbell was on the news he was facing 30 years in prison. This time the story i a little different.

“I’m making an impact in a good way,” Campbell.

After seven years served, Steven was released last year with no money, no job and his parents both died while he was behind bars.

What Steven had was a paintbrush and a community.

"Without them, I wouldn't be doing anything right now."

When Steven first heard about thePrison Creative Arts Project (PCAP) he saw it as a financial lifeline.

“$50 here, $75 here, every year,” added Campbell.

Prisoners could get their art evaluated by University of Michigan staff, who’d then help them sell their pieces to the public through various exhibits.

“These are my hands reaching out with my heart,” added Campbell.

After doing his first piece he realize it was more than a quick cash opportunity.

“I got children telling me how much it resonated with them,” he says.

More than creating art, he was creating connection.

“I was looking for people to talk to me 'cuz nobody was talking to me,” said Campbell.

“Art in any form is about creating meaning,” said Janie Paul, Co-founder of Prison Creative Arts Project. “If people don't have meaning and purpose in their life, they may turn to destructive behavior.”

Janie Paul organizes CPAC annual exhibitions and it the author of the upcoming book “Making Art in Prison: Survival & Resistance." She says over the 27 years the project has been running she’s seen the prisoners develop for the better.

Such is the case with Serge Tkachenko.

“Drugs, and alcohol and unhealthy behavior, my whole life that was my way to cope with feelings, suppress them and now I had a ability to see them and put them on paper, and actually get them out and work through them,” said Tkachenko.

Serge went 25 years without touching a paintbrush, but when he picked one up in prison, what poured out of him was a voice he didn’t even know he had.

“Once I started using it, I just don’t know how I lived my life before this,” said Tkachenko.

Today, Serge and Steven have sold countless pieces, making complete strangers think, feel, or even smile. or the public, it’s not always easy to do.

“Do you think when community members are viewing this art, it really pushes them out of their comfort zone?” asked David.

“We know the exhibit brings up a lot of thoughts and feelings, but our view is that we have to see people in their complexity for anything to change,” said Paul.

The biggest change of all? These ex-inmates now believe in themselves.

“What did this program do for you?” asked David.

“It gave me hope. It gave me more gas to go, it gave me a reason to go,” said Tkachenko.

It gave them faith in a second chapter with a blank canvas.