May 23, 2016
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Published: May 20, 2016
By: Marina Brown
To view the article online, visit: http://www.tallahassee.com/story/life/2016/05/20/art-hope-wakulla-correctional-institution/84673684.
While WCI is designated a maximum-security prison housing 1,500 inmates, the men are all in various stages of their stays. The minimum-security Work Camp sits to the side of the main building. The razor wire and tall fence are still in place around the quad of one-story concrete buildings, but here men plant gardens, mow the grass with old push lawnmowers and often go outside the facility to work. And they work on themselves.
From floor to ceiling the walls are covered with brilliantly painted superheroes. Aquaman jumps forward with a trident; Superman lunges forward with a fist; comets and planets roil across a cosmos filled with Hulks and super beings bent on fighting chaos and crime…
“Over five months it was all painted by inmates who came forward to brighten a room for visitors,” Maddox says. “They painted this to do good… and became good doing it.” She recalls how inmates with talent got better and beginning painters were assisted by those more experienced with an easy “Have you tried this?”
And she has more. Another program for inmates helping others is the noted HART program for dogs recovering from heartworms that are obedience-trained at the Work Camp by inmates prior to the animals’ adoption.
Meanwhile, back in the Visitor Park, Lyle, who has just come from the Running Club, grows philosophical. He teaches creative writing, graphic design and life-mapping to inmates, using his expertise from the outside, where he ran his own graphic design companies…
“When you first come here you have kind of have a shell around you … for protection, in a way. Eventually, though, you have to accept what’s happened. Why you’re here. And then … you can begin to relax. It’s actually safe here, you’re away from a lot of things that maybe got you into trouble in the first place. Then you can begin to grow, tap into some creative energy … and actually have enthusiasm again.” Lyle ponders the walls filled with soaring heroes achieving great things, and says, “To tell the truth, I think I’ve done the best things of my life since coming here.”
As Florida's largest state agency, the Department of Corrections employs 24,000 members statewide, incarcerates approximately 98,000 inmates and supervises nearly 140,000 offenders in the community.