Prisoners Break Out Their Artistic Side

"Albert Canstein," by inmates from the Trinidad Corrections Facility

by Malia Durbano

When it comes to creativity and including the whole community, there is no stopping Rodney Wood.

After the first ArtoCade, he got together with Rosalie Marquez, operations captain at the Trinidad Correctional Facility just outside of Trinidad, Colorado, and they figured out a way to allow inmates to participate in the community’s annual art car festival.

It started when Captain Marquez attended the inaugural art car parade in 2013. The lightbulb went on and she thought, “Oh my goodness, we have artists in the facility! This would offer an art project as a creative outlet for these guys and provide a way for them to engage with the community.”

She went to her superiors who said, “You want to do what?” Their first thought was that a running vehicle offers a means of escape for those behind the fences, but Marquez was not deterred. Wood did a presentation to the senior management team and although Marquez admits it was a hard sell, they overcame all objections and complied with the mandates established. For example, to allow the team to paint the Ford Explorer inside the facility, they had to take off the tires and disconnect the battery.

Marquez was also only allowed to invite offenders who were on an approved list to enter the minimally secured area where the car would be painted and decorated. Wood did a presentation to the offenders who were qualified to participate and interested. “Some of them left scratching their heads,” Marquez said.

But, some of the guys signed on and they met to come up with the design and do preliminary drawings. Marquez had to make sure the designs did not incorporate any graffiti or gang related images. Due to strict security rules, Wood couldn’t store any of the materials on the premises and had to comply with rigorous procedures to clear them in and out of the facility. He had to count every paint brush, cup, can of paint and Popsicle stick entering and leaving the facility.

But it was worth it. The offenders came together as a team to work on the project, setting differences aside. The team decided on all the details, with Wood overseeing and facilitating. All materials were donated so no state money was spent on the project.

The work was done outdoors in an available space, which meant the work was done in the blazing sun and, sometimes, the pouring rain. But, soon it was primed and ready for paint. The next morning the guys looked at the vehicle and realized something was wrong. The primer was all “puffed up.” It didn’t set right and was “bubbly and goopy.” While Marquez scrambled to get sandpaper and putty knives through a lengthy and detailed approval process, the guys took matters into their own hands. They used the only material available to scrape the goop off: rocks.

The original name for the Explorer was “Mental Exploration,” with the planned artwork to portray the theme. After the primer fiasco, the group referred to the vehicle as “Plan B,” and the name stuck.

They finished the Explorer and it was a hit in the 2014 Artocade. Emblazoned on the tailgate was “TCF.” That is how the offenders at Trinidad Correctional Facility paid their respects to TCF, the Trinidad Community Foundation, which funded the team’s work on the Explorer.