Tag Archives: Portrait

Why ‘Women in Jail?’

I look through jail logs and see their faces: women arrested, usually young and linked to drugs, staring blankly into a camera for their mugshots. I do this as part of my job as a reporter.

Women are the fastest growing inmate populations nationwide.

I have watched their numbers have swell from a handful to about 27 percent of the population at the Washington County Detention Center.  The trend, in line with the national problem, bothers me. I come from a family where drugs and alcohol and domestic abuse played a role in that cycle.

And, even now, help seems scarce. Transitional housing is hard to get, driver’s licenses are hard to get, fees are hard to pay. The cycle continues.

My mother used to bring home female strangers who begged her for jobs in her flower shop. As a child, I noted the women were often pale, sick and scared. They vomited in our toilet. They sweated on our couch. They never ate.

Once a man drove into our yard and yelled for a woman staying with us come out. He was angry. She was his girlfriend. She was not in her place. Our dogs attacked his red truck. One dove into his driver’s side window and bowed the glass. The dog scared him away, but his girlfriend went back to him a few days later.

I’m saying all of this because I’ve been thinking about how best to explain why I wanted to help women convicted of felonies. Why do a show dedicated to “Women in Jail?” Why pick Returning Home to try to raise money and awareness? Why did I want to focus on people who are often overlooked, even shunned?

My cousins went through a string of arrests, convictions, abuse and addictions. Their convictions include theft, hot checks, possession, domestic abuse and, one even has a misdemeanor charge of giving her son cigarettes.

My two first cousins were pregnant by 15. Teeth eroded, psych wards, suicide attempts — surely you know the drill.

Until recently, I thought everyone knew someone who had been trapped in the judicial system and cycle of addictions. Everyone knows someone arrested. After all, we are talking about a lot of people.

Arkansas ranked among the top 10 for incarcerated women in 2014. From the same report: “Over the past quarter century, there has been a profound change in the involvement of women within the criminal justice system. This is the result of more expansive law enforcement efforts, stiffer drug sentencing laws, and post-conviction barriers to reentry that uniquely affect women. Women now comprise a larger proportion of the prison population than ever before; the female prison population stands nearly eight times higher than its population count in 1980. More than 60% of women in state prisons have a child under the age of 18.1”

Often, when women get out of jail, there is nowhere to go but back to where they were, they feel.

More than half men who get out of jail or prison end up back there. More than a third of the women end up back, too. That destroys families, hurts children and hinders our communities.

If that’s not enough, I can tell you incarcerating people costs us millions locally. In fact, a justice of the peace called the jail costs a “black hole” sucking money from the general fund earlier this week.

The Washington County Quorum Court is struggling with costs — including a climbing incarceration rate at the county jail. At this point about two-thirds of those at the jail are pre-adjudicated, meaning they have not yet been convicted.


How can we help? Maybe let’s start by caring and learning about the issues.


For information about the fundraiser or to submit art, visit https://www.facebook.com/events/349752785448659/

Pastels, Portraits and Meaning

Girl at DMV
A girl waits with her mother at the DMV in Fayetteville, Ark. Pastel on 5-by-7 paper. 2016

I carry a Fabriano journal everywhere I go and managed to capture this quick study of a young girl at the DMV. I used my cell phone to snap a photo (it wasn’t the best photo) and used that to fill in some more detail. I really like this kid’s expression because we all felt this way while trapped at the DMV.

These are highly concentrated pigmented pastels. I also sometimes work with hard pastels or mix the two. I find soft pastels deliver a higher-quality color saturation. I love color and experimenting with color. I was originally drawn to this child because of her bright shirt and dark hair.

Below, is an example of hard and soft pastel used together with a gold acrylic background. You can really see the vibrancy in Medusa’s snakes — soft pastel. I painted Medusa’s skin first with hard pastels in green shades. The technique is one used by artists like Degas. You can see some of the green in his underpaintings.

I also saw this technique used at the Savannah College of Art & Design, where students used variations of green first to catch a certain effect.

Medusa, mixed media
Medusa, Malaysian Coral Snake hair. Pastel and Acrylic

I chose Medusa because she has such an interesting background. She was a beautiful maiden who was treated unjustly and turned into a monster who became feared by men. Her image was at one point adopted by feminists.

I chose the brightest snakes I could and reproduced them here. They are Malaysian Coral Snakes — highly poisonous, which I thought was fitting for Medusa.

Both of these pastel examples (the girl and Medusa) strive to capture a certain meaning using a very vibrant and difficult media. With Medusa, I was shooting for symbolism. With “Girl at the DMV,” I wanted to show emotion and life.

I believe art is an experiment. Every time I sit down at my easel, it’s an experiment. Even so, art should say something. To me, art should be more, than “Art for arts sake.” It is meant to bring us closer to beauty, emotion, society and ourselves.