There are many reasons why someone creates art – whether it be therapy, or stress relief, or just pure passion. When someone has that passion and the talent to match, it is a gift to all of us who see those creations. This is undisputed for an eclectic artist, David “Ringo” Wonnacott of Columbia River Correctional Institution. His portraits and murals can be found throughout the facility with everything from movie characters to scenes of nature, and even portraits of employee’s own furry friends. It all began for Wonnacott when he was a tattoo artist.
“I never spent much time as a kid doodling or coloring, it wasn’t until later that it interested me. I didn’t learn how to paint or draw or have any instruction, but I just knew I wanted to be a tattoo artist,” says Wonnacott. He was originally drawn to tattooing because of its representation of being taboo and grimy. Prior to tattooing becoming mainstream, it was stereotypically just bikers, criminals, the punk rock scene, and bad girls who would wear them. “The first tattoo I ever did was a rose, free handed, it just came naturally, and the money was good. I just knew it was for me,” he stated.
An inspiring story from the Oregon State Penitentiary’s (OSP) Behavioral Health Unit (BHU) featuring adults in custody (AIC) Issac Agee and Michael Issac…
From one quiet, dimly lit, and isolated cell of Oregon’s only Death Row Unit, a little bird was born. This was no ordinary bird. It was an “Urban Bird” and although free of feathers and flight, it was full of hope, joy, patience, and gratitude. This is when the art of origami was introduced to one of Oregon State Penitentiary’s adults in custody.
Former Chef Finds Culinary Skills Apply Well to the Art Field
“You know how you do homework? It’s the same thing.” Artist Seth Mathews described the variance in styles and art genres as he displayed photographs of hundreds of pieces, he has done over the last seven years. There are stacks of airy water-color art, with opaque black lines and semi-transparent splatters of color. There are lifelike photorealistic pieces where every line, light source, and graffito is thoughtfully placed. There are perspective artwork pieces, with a worm’s eye view to regal elk stepping into a clearing. There are abstract art, graffiti, and portraits – all which make for an unusual contrast in styles for one artist’s portfolio.
The Snake River Correctional Institution’s (SRCI) Resource Team recently participated in a very special dinner with Peer Mentor and Resource Team member, Galvin Lomboy who expressed how the Peer Mentorship has changed his life as an adult in custody (AIC). The dinner was made possible by the SRCI Correctional Rehabilitation team.
During the special event, AIC Lomboy articulated how he could not stop thinking about all the opportunities to better himself, and how he would dial in on the focus of his goals after incarceration and his desire to help others. In short, he expressed his goals to continue the humanitarian path after he has finished his sentence. He talked about his gratitude for all the support, advice, and guidance of the Resource Team. He continued to name each member and how much he has learned from each person in different ways.
David Whiting Finds Relief From Stress in His Artwork
A uniting factor among incarcerated artists is the therapeutic benefit that art delivers to each practitioner. Each person connects to their art in a unique way, but the benefits are similar and equally inspiring. For David Whiting, a visual artist living at Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution, art has become more than just a hobby – it’s a way of life for him.
Whiting began his journey with art more than 20 years ago while sitting in county jail in Eugene. He began by copying cartoons out of newspapers. Navigating the constant stress and pressures of time spent in county, “sketching and tracing became an escape for me, and eventually a meditation,” he says. Once he got to prison, Whiting began experimenting with nature sketches using a wider variety of mediums.
Inspiration is the first step for any artist, the fire starter if you will. But how does an artist seek out or find inspiration in the world? It differs for everyone. Some people find inspiration in nature, religion, or the world around them. Some people wait to be found by inspiration. For artist Wayne Cummins, inspiration found its way to him through friendship.
Cummins met his friend Herb Wood years ago living with him on a housing unit at Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution. They became friends through their shared interest in artwork and sketching.
2022 has been a busy year for the Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution’s (EOCI) Enrichment Club. Fifteen adults in custody (AIC) volunteered nearly 1,200 hours of their time for fund raisers to help with multiple charitable causes.
So far, $17,609.84 has been donated by AICs, with another $3,000 in donations anticipated by the end of the year.
Some of the organizations that benefit from the Enrichment Clubs hard work include the Oregon Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Abuse, Pendleton Lions club, they help children get eye exams and glasses, Headstart, Doernbecher’s Children’s Hospital, St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, and more.
Adults in custody (AIC) at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility (CCCF) have an opportunity to learn a new trade skill for jobs post-incarceration.
The Department of Corrections (DOC) recently received a three-year grant through the Bureau of Justice Assistance Second Chance Act. This grant allows DOC to offer an industry recognized certification program through Baker Technical Institute (BTI) for AICs to become Heavy Equipment Operators. The new program uses simulation technology to train women at the correctional facility to use heavy construction machinery.
The AICs will also be trained on First Aid and CPR, Flagger Certification, and Forklift Certification. Wraparound services are also included, such as resume writing, job search assistance, and connections to WorkSource Oregon.
Cassandra Kuhr is one of the adults in custody that graduated from the program, and she has graciously shared her story.
Outside of Snake River Correctional Institution, Recreation Specialist II Nate Bake and his wife Stephanie raise and train working Australian Shepherd dogs that compete in herding competitions around the US. Qualifying for the finals is an accumulation of points throughout the herding year. The 25 dogs with the highest total points in each stock – which include cattle, sheep, ducks, and geese – are invited to participate in the finals. This year, the event took place in Bryan, Texas. With much dedication and passion, both Bake and his wife qualified and entered seven of their Australian Shepherds in the nationals and finals, and they all did exceptionally well.
The Art of Communication is a program offered to qualifying adults in custody (AICs) at a number of Oregon Department of Corrections’ institutions across the state. Developed by Chaplain Trime Persinger at Snake River Correctional Institution (SRCI), the course teaches AICs how to build positive relationships and manage conflict situations through everyday conversations. This post is part of a series which aims to share the stories of AICs who have been impacted by the program.
Below, AIC Yohannes Tesfay explains how the program has changed his mindset. AIC Tesfay shared his experience with Trime Persinger, who wrote it down as follows: