Maryland Correctional Institution inmates display artwork at Valley Mall

Art club keeps its members out of trouble

  • Art from inmates at the Maryland Correctional Institute-Hagerstown is on display at Valley Mall in a storefront next to Old Navy.
By Joe Crocetta, Staff Photographer

The artwork at this year's Maryland Correctional Institution-Hagerstown art display might not be for sale, but it's original.

The display by the inmates at the state prison south of Hagerstown, between the Old Navy and Hallmark at Valley Mall, includes Tinkerbell, a man in handcuffs, dolphins, snowy mountain landscapes and even a portrait of Hugo Chavez.

The art show has been held each year since before 1992, according to Victor Wachs, MCI-H case manager and art group coordinator.

The display has been held at various Hagerstown venues, including the library and Hagerstown Community College.

"The mall is really great. It's a little small, but we get a lot of traffic to look at it," Wachs said.

The MCI-H art club is quite popular, Wachs said. There are 40 inmates in the club and usually a 20-person waiting list, he said.

Inmates in the group purchase their own supplies, which range from charcoal to pastels, and meet to work on projects every Tuesday evening.

"The club is an opportunity for them to work on whatever they want to work on and share ideas with each other," Wachs said. "It's not a class, just a group of people."

Wachs said that because only well-behaved inmates can participate in the group, the art club tends to keep inmates out of trouble.

"Because they're probably not involved in some other activities, the club has a positive impact in that respect," he said. "It's something that allows them to pass their time."

Inmates select the work they want displayed at the art show each year. Other than making sure the art is appropriate for public viewing, Wachs said he allows the artists to display anything they like.

"Some of it is pretty accomplished, some isn't. It's just whatever they want to put in," Wachs said.

The art show itself is an opportunity for inmate artists to display their work publicly. Over the years, Wachs said he has gotten mostly positive feedback about the art club and the work produced, both from inmates and viewers.

"It's an art show, a group, no more than that," he said. "It just happens that they're inmates, which adds some things for some people. The reaction is overall positive."

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