Art on Trial

Confessions of a serial art therapist

Inmate Mural Part 2: Escape from Alcatraz/Escape Through Art

From Alcatraz to Colquitt, GA: From a prison escape to an escape through art

The film, Concrete, Steel and Paint, told the story of the Philadelphia Mural project in which inmates and victims of crime painted a mural on parachute cloth in the prison the inmates were housed, which was then attached to a wall in the middle of the city [described in the blog post “Prison Murals: Inmates and Crime Victims Create Together”]. The last blog post, “Inmate Mural Arts Program Part 1: Transformation Thru Unity,” introduced the readers to a mural painted by prison inmates directly on a wall within the confines of a prison. This post tells the tale of another mural project, only this time the inmates were let outside the gates to paint a mural directly on a wall in downtown Colquitt, GA.

Colquitt-Georgia’s First Mural City

Colquitt is a small town in southern GA; once down on its heels due to a variety of economic and agricultural setbacks, it had an impressive resurgence through the strident efforts and impressive productions of its local arts, sponsored and championed by the Miller Arts Council. This Council has produced a number of popular theater productions through  Swamp Gravy,  "the Official Folk Life Play of Georgia,” a group that presents stories common to the members of their community. Another commanding visual presence are the large murals throughout its small township.

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For the self-labeled “Georgia’s First Mural City”, the Council contracts with artists all over the world to create large murals on buildings and structures throughout town that depict local scenes and convey homegrown narratives. 

Colquitt is known for one other thing; it is home to the notorious Anglin Brothers, John and Clarence, two of the only three men [some argue] to successfully escape from Alcatraz.   

It’s no wonder the jail inmates would identify enough with this story to want to make it the subject of their mural.

Escaped from Alcatraz-The Anglin Brothers

The Anglin Brothers were depression-era men who had a history of many small-time bank robberies and equally numerous jailbreaks. Locals remember that despite their crimes, they were seen as more wild, untamed and impulsive than dangerous; some argued that their only weakness was they had ‘champagne tastes on a beer budget’; they would rob a bank, tear through the money they stole, get caught by the local sheriffs of the towns they were in, and would be jailed. They would stay in jail for however long they felt they deserved, and would subsequently escape—jails seemed to be no match for them. Their neighbors understood that they would see the brothers of Colquitt again, when—not if—they chose to leave the jail that imprisoned them. Eventually, this caught up to them, and the Federal government, having less tolerance than the small town they grew up in, sent them to Alcatraz, known for its inescapability.

The Anglin Brothers
The Anglin Brothers
While they were in Alcatraz they fell in with fellow inmate Frank Morris, and on June 11, 1962 John and Clarence joined Frank Morris in an escape attempt from which they were never found. Of course, legend has it their escape was successful. These events were later featured in the film Escape from Alcatraz, with Clint Eastwood as Frank Morris.

Colquitt fully embraced the notoriety and legend of the Anglin Brothers; in June 2006, Swamp Gravy presented “The Gospel of the Rock” a theatre production based on the stories of the Anglin Brothers as told by their family members and others who remembered them. What better stories for current jail inmates to identify?

From Story to Mural—Another Escape

Familiar with the first inmate mural completed by the Inmate Mural Arts Program (IMAP) team, the Colquitt’s Miller Arts Council approached, and ultimately contracted with the Florida State University’s Art Therapy program and the IMAP team to work with the Miller County jail inmates to create a mural on a wall in the downtown Colquitt area. This was in hte summer of 2008. The chosen wall would be a 35X51ft side of a local body shop near the town square. 

A
rt therapists Julie Argue and Jacquelyn Bennett—who had since graduated—were commissioned to once again team up, and lead a smaller group of jail inmates, residence of the Miller County Jail in the development and creation of this mural.  I helped when I could.

After several meetings, the team, with support from the Council, agreed a mural of the Anglin Brothers was apropos.

However, rather than a linear narrative of events, the manner in which most of the other story-telling murals adopted, the team decided to create a collage made up of photos and images that represented the Anglin brothers’ life and exploits. Other details were added to emphasize the legend. Many of the objects depicted were borrowed from a small museum in town. These images were placed haphazardly around a gray-haired man who is looking upon some of the images; there is another person in the image, identified simply as a hand coming from the bottom, holding a simple message of love. The mural hints that the two brothers are alive somewhere in South America; in the mural they seem to be reminiscing about their past by going through a series of mementos of their family and experiences spread upon a table. It also includes a close-up of Clint Eastwood from the Escape from Alcatraz movie poster and a comic book about the daring incident.

Later on, a police car was added outside the window as if coming to pick up the brothers; this was an afterthought, included to satisfy some of the concerns of the county law enforcement representatives who did not want a message that they actually got away with their crimes.

Image of family photo
The final image received enthusiastic approval from the Council, and the work began.

With support and cooperation from the local Sheriff and the jail administrator, the inmates were brought to the site each day by the Deputy to work on the wall. Scaffolding was again erected, a digital reproduction was projected onto the wall, and carefully traced with Sharpie markers, and, over many weeks, the image was slowly and painstakingly transferred to the wall.

 

The process of painting the mural drew crowds and words of encouragement from passersby. Even Marie-- John and Clarence’s sister--and other Anglin family members came to the site to watch the team paint. The family walked away feeling quite happy with the project.

After many weeks of hard work that had its share of challenges and security concerns, the mural entitled:  

Inmate Mural: Gospel of the Rock
Inmate Mural: Gospel of the Rock

“Gospel of the Rock” was completed.

 In the words of one of the Miller Arts Council members:

What an amazing project we’ve just completed! We are so proud of all our murals, but I am sure this will be one that will tug at heartstrings. It is such a multi- layered story of boys from a good family that went wrong and became a local legend, to the sense of pride and dedication that the guys that worked so hard on the mural have been given.
We consider it a great gift and we appreciate so very much the hard work and love of the project …"

Follow-up

Several of the inmates who worked on the mural have since completed their sentences, and continue to live and work in Colquitt. Two of them attended the formal dedication of the mural 6 months after its completion, and spoke of their wonderful experience and about how much being part of the team contributed to their success. Some time later, the making of the mural was commemorated through its own Swamp Gravy community theater production that captured some of the humorous and touching anecdotes of the mural-making experience. One actor even played an art therapist, a composite of the ones who worked on this project.

Author working on mural
Author working on mural
Coming next...

Shortly after this mural’s completion, the IMAP coordinator negotiated with a woman’s prison to do a mural with their population…

David Gussak, PhD, ATR-BC, is professor and chairperson for the Florida State University Department of Art Education, and Clinical Coordinator of its Graduate Art Therapy Program.

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