‘We want people to see the humanity of people who are currently incarcerated’: Paint OUT spreads a message of justice

Hundreds of students and community members gathered at Ingalls Mall Friday morning for the Prison Creative Arts Project’s Paint OUT event.
by Maleny Crespo


Hundreds of students and community members gathered at Ingalls Mall Friday morning for the Prison Creative Arts Project’s Paint OUT event. PCAP is a program within the LSA Residential College that trains students and community members to facilitate art workshops in Michigan prisons. Nation OutsideAmerican Friends Service Committee and Michigan Justice Advocacy tabled at the event.

Mary Heinen McPherson, PCAP co-founder and program coordinator, told The Michigan Daily that Paint OUT raises awareness of PCAP’s efforts to bring art, creative writing and theatre to those in prison. She said Paint OUT also provides opportunities for students to be creative, making a collaborative and potentially inspiring message for incarcerated individuals.

“Paint OUT is our response to prisoners who long for freedom and frequently say they’re going to ‘paint their way out of prison,’ ” McPherson said. “We’re tracing our hands and, on the fingers, sending messages like ‘love, hope, peace, and freedom.’ These will be laminated and photographed. We’ll send those photographs (to those in prison) so that they can enjoy the good wishes and the goodwill of the citizens of Ann Arbor and (University of Michigan) students, faculty and staff.”

LSA senior Libby Engel, vice president of PCAP, told The Daily PCAP gives students the unique opportunity to facilitate art workshops for incarcerated individuals, while also learning from them.

“Most importantly, this is not a class where we teach (those in prison),” Engel said. “A lot of times, the people inside have more skills, experience, knowledge and expertise in these disciplines. We’re providing a space where it’s possible to collaborate, get together and create art.”

Engel said she believes Paint OUT facilitates valuable community-building where people can come together to send support to those incarcerated in Michigan.

“We are thinking about people who are incarcerated,” Engel said. “They’re really in our hearts and our minds. We want people to see the humanity of people who are currently incarcerated. Just keep them in mind and be aware of the scope and the magnitude of mass incarceration in Michigan.”

Engineering and Business junior Meha Goyal spoke with The Daily about what she learned through the Paint OUT event. She said the event displays how the U-M community cares about those impacted by the criminal justice system, including not only incarcerated individuals but also their families and friends. 

“I think — especially if you’ve been incarcerated unfairly or stuck in a situation that’s really difficult — it’s important to receive support from members of the community,” Goyal said. “This is one really great way to be a part of that support to people who are incarcerated. I thought it’d be nice to contribute even just a little bit so that they have a little bit of additional hope and support.” 

In an interview with The Daily, McPherson shared why PCAP centers art around their work. She said art can act as a vehicle for positive change. 

“Art is something you pour your soul into, and so the artists that have nothing but a pencil and a piece of paper in a jail cell wearing a uniform can take themselves out of their situation and create and write and dream and think and grieve,” McPherson said. “It’s a way of giving people who have been very traumatized something to look forward to. They can develop their skills and curate their art with us, write with us for the literature review, or even communicate with us and participate outside here when free. It’s very cathartic, healing and healthy.” 

Daily Staff Reporter Maleny Crespo can be reached at mcrespo@umich.edu

Read the original article from The Michigan Daily here.

Release Date: 10/01/2023
Tags: Prison Creative Arts Project
Website: michigandaily.com/campus-life/we-want-people-to-see-the-humanity-of-people-who-are-currently-incarcerated-paint-out-spreads-a-message-of-justice/