NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J.—Since it’s premiere at a women’s prison, the California Institute for Women, in February 2006, Curator Rickie Solinger’s exhibit, Interrupted Life: Incarcerated Mothers in the United States, has educated the public through over 100 college and university galleries around the country about the realities of incarceration, specifically for mothers and their children, said Neil Tetkowski, the Director of University Galleries at Kean University where the exhibit is now being held, at The Karl and Helen Burger Art Gallery, until Sept. 23, 2012.
Solinger, renowned author and scholar, gathered artwork from actual inmates, well-known artists, and even high school students from Columbus, Ohio to give a multi-faceted view into the American prison system and its effect on the most vulnerable, women and children.
“One artwork contains these shocking statistics: One out of every 109 women in America is incarcerated, on parole, or probation. 150,000 women are in jail or in prison,” said Tetkowski.
Some of the high school students who contributed to this exhibit know firsthand what it’s like to have a mother or other family member locked away in prison.
“Many children suffer and struggle, and lose their selves without their moms, because their moms are in prison,” said Carmen Nicole Solis, 16, one of the children from Columbus Ohio who contributed to Interrupted Life. “I can relate to this project because my mother is in jail.”
There is a whole wall of postcard art made by inmates for their children, family members, or friends.
“I have a disease, it’s called addiction, instead of getting me help they put me in prison,” said one anonymous inmate.
Some of these post cards are from children to their mothers.
“My smile is gone because my mom is gone,” Theresa West said.
There is even an entire piece of art that consists of pictures and actual hand-written letters, the correspondence between a mother and her 11-year-old daughter, documenting a small portion of the time the mother served in prison.
“African Americans make up 13 percent of the population, and 13 percent of drug users, 35 percent of drug arrests, 55 percent of drug convictions, [and] 74 percent of those sentenced to prison for drugs,” said Sabrina Jones, Ellen Miller-Mack and Lois Ahrens in their piece titled “What’s Race Got To Do With It?”
The exhibit shows many different sides of this issue and gives many different perspectives, and many times children give the clearest perspective.
“It punched me right dead in my face that the women who go to jail pregnant have to be chained up while they are having their babies,” said Damica Dannee’ Campbell, 16, a contributor to the exhibit. “I chose to do this because I thought it was BS! I wanted to let the world know how I felt and what was going on.”
Follow Alex Compton on Twitter@ComptonAlex and at AlexCompton.wordpress.com