Inmates protect their humanity through art

Yusuf Lateef, one of the artists who worked with the inmates, explains what the mural symbolizes. Standing is the participants who helped make the project successful. From left, is Rachel Richardson, director of Art corner Toledo, Matt Taylor, the other artist who worked with the inmates, Carol Contrada, Lucas County Commissioner, Yvonne Harper, Toledo city Council, Pete Gerken, Lucas County Commissioner, and Emily Numbers, project coordinator, who said, “We see art as a powerful, and social tool for change. The inmates saw this as an opportunity on how they could help make a difference.”

Journal Staff Writer

A mural, entitled, “Passages of Hope,” and painted in collaboration with, inmates of the Toledo Correctional Institute, hangs on display in the lobby of One Government Center in downtown Toledo. A formal unveiling of the art work was held on Thursday, November 3.

The colors of the mural and the imagery aren’t what some people may expect incarcerated individuals to paint. The colors are somewhat bright, and spring like such as yellow, green, and red.

The mural is painted from a person’s perspective, as he looks out of a well, and towards the sun. The well has roses growing along the sides, and bees fly around those flowers. All of which symbolizes something else, according to Yusuf Lateef, who was one of the head artists, along with Matt Taylor, both of which worked with the inmates.

Mr. Lateef told The Toledo Journal that the well symbolizes the inmate’s current situation of being incarcerated, but it can also mean any situation in which someone feels constrained. The roses growing in the well represents the inmates, and the bees that are flying around the roses represent those people who come into the prison and try to help inmates.

“This project was all about helping them keep their humanity,” Mr. Lateef said. “No matter how challenging our situation, we should fight to hold on to our humanity. But I was so humbled by the experience. People would be surprised at how light shines from unexpected corners,” he said.

The project started in March of 2016, but according to Mr. Taylor, they originally went into the prison to have a conversation with the inmates.

“I was unaware how the situation would affect me,” he told the audience at the unveiling. “They’re all talented human beings that are living in there, and we had the opportunity to help provide them with a bit of normalcy during the time we were painting. As we got to know them, it was really tough seeing them in that situation,” he said.

Rachel Richardson, director of Art Corner Toledo, one of the sponsors, told those present at the unveiling, “I always became very emotional when I entered the prison. I just hope people take the opportunity to see the mural, and learn about the men who painted it, through their works. I thanked them for working with us, and sharing their experiences. I now call them our friends, and colleagues.”

The mural is on display in the lobby of One Government Center in downtown Toledo. In December, it will be on display in Lucas County Court of Common Pleas, 700 Adams St.

Other sponsors of the mural were the Lucas County Commissioners, People for Change, Inside Out Prison Exchange Program, University of Toledo College of Arts and Letters, and the Art Supply Depot.