Art Therapy For Prisoners
The time spent in prisons or jails is feared by even the most hardened criminals. The violence, humiliation, confinement, and lack of any personal dignity is known to break people down physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. Depression and mental disorders are quite common in the incarcerated population. Therapy in general is quite a challenge when it comes to inmates as one’s patients. There is an inherent mistrust in sharing anything personal or any issues that they might have. This is majorly due to the fear of other prisoners taking advantage of their verbalized “weaknesses”. An automatic defense mechanism of silence, fibs, and undue violence sets in as a survival tactic. A majority of inmates come from lesser privileged backgrounds, illiteracy and an inability to communicate verbally or through any other channel is a stumbling block in expressing any kind of physical, emotional, or mental problems. There is a definite spike in sociopathic tendency after a term in the prisons, more commonly in men. In this process the inmates actually adapt to this environment and develop an inability to trust anyone, including the therapists.
It has been observed that there is a natural tendency for the prisoners to express through the creativity they harbor. This tendency finds light in the craft shop annex in the prisons which may display the works of art created by the inmates and also in the intricate tattoos that they come up with. It is through this skill that many have found respect and friends within the prison.
The inmates who have been engaged in the arts are known to show some marked changes in their behavior. The disciplinary reports on them go down, recidivism is found to have decreased and there is a positive engagement with them when inmates have joined in the art programs started in the prisons.
Art therapists have come to see this as an opportunity to delve deeper into the mental illnesses that prisoners are known to develop over a period of time and sometimes from the very beginning. There is a definite increase in the design and development of art programs for the prisons to initiate a dialogue between those that are going through the torment and the society at large. The art therapists have been able to find this breakthrough where the inmates have effectively opened themselves up to them without realizing most of it. The art therapists have also learned to wield these tools to guide them towards constructive thought process and over all positivity, reformation and rehabilitation.
Recent research has also put forth their support for art therapy while citing that it is genuinely effective in increasing mood, self-assuredness, social skills, and problem solving. All of these are, in fact the benefits of art engagement for any target set of art practitioners. The underlying principle here is the process of creating the artwork and understanding that the outcome is a mere ancillary product, not the focus.