Project #2: Prison Polymer: Art as a Lifeline Back to the Community

Prison Polymer

Approximate Start and End Dates: November 2014/July 2015
Location of Project: Marion Correctional, Marion, Ohio and Ohio Womens

Reformatory, Delaware, Ohio

My blog’s tag line reads inspiring you to create. By featuring polymer art daily for nearly 10 years, has inspired and connected artists around the world. The community is brimming with generosity and poised to do more. This grant would give me the nudge to take bigger steps.

When I asked on the blog for help for women making polymer beads in Nepal, artists were happy to donate enough to build a 2-story building and boost the women’s project to new levels of effectiveness. The connections and spin-offs from that small action continue to grow the project beyond what anyone imagined.

“What about something closer to home,” I wondered. At a polymer conference I heard rumors of an artist who was a prison guard/minister/prison volunteer. The story intrigued me and I hooked up with the remarkable Jackie Burns who had worked her way through the Ohio corrections system, leaving to become a counselor and minister and then returning to the prisons to become a chaplain and volunteer.

Jackie explained how she was working through a new program, Embark, that helps offenders who are nearing release build their skills and reenter the community. Herself a former potter and polymer newbie, Jackie had taken the first steps to introduce polymer to inmates as part of Embark’s training. Art for self-expression, art for sale, art for connection. What better than inexpensive, accessible, portable polymer to help the inmates get back in touch with their artistic selves?

Maggie Maggio and I taught a class together at both the women’s and men’s prison this summer. We were overwhelmed by the students’ enthusiasm and warm response. One inmate said, “For just a little while, I didn’t feel like a prisoner.”

The inmates cannot keep their work but their pieces are sold at craft shows through Embark’s network of volunteers. Proceeds are put back into the project. They can also make gifts that are sent to family and friends.

Several months later Leslie Blackford and Tammy Dye taught at the facilities. The inmates’ skills had improved dramatically and they felt honored to have top-level polymer artists teaching them. “What more can we do,” Leslie and Tammy immediately wanted to know.

Teaming with Embark to help develop inmates’ skills feels doable and right. The art community has the spirit to help and the blog offers me a platform to spread the word.

Embark’s board looks to me and other polymer artists to make suggestions and recommendations, set up teaching schedules, and discover other avenues for using art to help inmates.

What if each released Embark participant left with a starter kit to help them have keep up with their art when they arrive home and to provide an emotional outlet? Some might sell their works as a source of income.

Would guild members volunteer to make sure that former inmates could attend guild meetings? Would they be willing to set up a mentoring program? How else could we use art to smooth offenders’ transition back to normal life? How could I publicize this on my blog and mobilize the community?

I’ve filled out the forms and taken the training required to teach art in the prisons on a regular basis. Other artists say they’re ready to get on board. I’m poised to organize them and to do more.

This Crafthaus grant will allow me to outline a plan and put it into action. Documenting my progress online will effectively “crowdsource” ideas to improve the re-entry system using art. It will allow small individual acts build into a larger cumulative effect.

Additional information:

Ohio Reformatory for Women
Marysville, Ohio
2,516 inmates

Marion Correctional Institution
Marion, Ohio
2,604 inmates



Embark is an innovative offender reentry program that works with men and women returning to Central Ohio. Participants receive guidance and support as they navigate their journey from incarceration to independence.

EMBARK accepts men and women that will be eligible for release or have a parole board hearing within 12-15 months of entry in the program. Candidates are carefully assessed for their readiness to participate in EMBARK. EMBARK trains volunteers from the community to deliver programs and services. 

The program launched at Marion Correctional Institution (MCI) and Ohio Reformatory for Women (ORW) in June, 2011. In preparation for release, participants are required to complete a comprehensive series of courses designed to provide them with the foundation and framework to sustain independence.

Jackie Burns, Clinical and Community Administrator

Samunnat Project – Nepal  
Information posted online spawned Raise the Roof, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Necklace, IPCA and guild donations and many individual donations.

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