Md. inmates paint pretty picture for '99 Calendar: Prisoners' artwork will be featured on thousands of state agency desks and walls in the coming year.

December 23, 1998|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

This year's state calendar, rich with pastoral landscapes and seaside scenes, is being brought to you by artists who don't go outside -- at least not without supervision.

Maryland's prisoners, armed with paintbrushes and nontoxic paint (no trim knives or paint thinner allowed), made the pictures featured on 26,000 desk calendars and 20,000 wall calendars for state agencies.

The inmates are tickled their names will be on walls and desks around the state.

"Better the calendar than the FBI's 10-most-wanted list," said Peter Waine, a convicted murderer who has been behind bars since 1975.

Waine, 58, painted a seaside scene with a half-built boat named "Hope." His watercolor is for the month of March.

Yesterday, eight prisoners stood proudly by their paintings as the calendar was presented at the Maryland Correctional Institution in Jessup.

The paintings were selected in a contest announced eight months ago. The contest rules were clear: Make the paintings about Maryland. Nice, pretty, nonviolent Maryland. One painting of an abandoned truck on a farm was ordered redone because the artist, Stephen Torres, painted a gunshot blast in the truck's door.

"They said it promoted violence," said Torres, who is serving 15 years for possession of PCP. Farmers and hunters often use abandoned trucks for target practice, he said, and he was just trying to accurately portray a rural scene. He managed to keep some bullet holes in the painting for November.

The contest made prisoners who had been behind bars for more than a decade dig deep into their memories for scenes to portray. Some looked in magazines. January's depiction of the Capitol in Annapolis was painted from a picture in an old encyclopedia and falls a bit short of what the building looks like now.

Robert Moore, who has been in prison since he was 16 for second-degree murder, was inspired by the hills of Western Maryland, which he saw through his cell window in Hagerstown.

The Baltimore native, who dreamed of being an architect, painted a log cabin covered in snow with pine trees on each side. Mountains are behind the house.

"Sometimes you look at the picture and you put yourself in there," said Moore, who has served 7 1/2 years of a 20-year sentence, "and you know you've got to work to make those dreams come true."

His picture did not make the calendar. Moore has been on the inmate "art detail" at Jessup for the past month. At the prison, painting is like any other job. Inmates earn $1 a day and produce paintings of just about anything for the jail walls and beyond.

Jail officials hope to expand the art program, which has six participants at Jessup.

Stuart O. Simms, secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said that inmates can use their skills as artists to do work for state agencies or nonprofit businesses. "Safely and competently occupying people's time is a good thing."

Inmates created a comic book for Johns Hopkins Hospital urging people to take their medication for tuberculosis. They have done portraits of jail officers that hang in the prison system headquarters. A new Web site is being created to feature the artwork and offer the prisoners' services, said prison spokesman Leonard A. Sipes Jr.

Sipes said the prison can produce portraits, T-shirts and coffee mugs with the inmates' renderings. "There's hundreds of

inmates that seem to have artistic talent that we could put to work on a daily basis," he said.

For the inmates, the art is more of a chance to escape -- without breaking the law. When they paint, they remember scenes from when they were free.

Torres, who used to manage a nightclub, thinks of riding his motorcycle down the highway. "I've always loved crossing the Bay Bridge on my way to the beach," Torres said.

And so the state painting for the month of August was born.

Pub Date: 12/23/98

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