Inmates at the Island County Jail were inspired by an art contest held by a group dedicated to promoting kindness and respect in an increasingly divided world.
This year, the first place winner and several honorable mentions in Civility First’s annual art contest happened to be incarcerated, which led to an unusual presentation in the county jail.
Chief Jail Administrator Jose Briones led a partnership between the jail and Civility First to encourage inmates to enter the contest. Briones explained that he used to work in the prison system and prisons are much more program-based than jails are. His goal has been to bring programs, such as the art contest, to the jail so it is not simply a “warehouse” for the people living there.
“If you’re unfortunately here, you’re going to get something out of it,” he said.
The five inmates present at the awards ceremony undoubtedly appreciated that.
“I was really thrilled to have something to participate in,” said Vanon Bowling, who won third place for his piece entitled “Salt of the Earth.”
Instructors from the Coupeville-based Pacific Northwest Art School judged the contest. Lisa Bernhardt, executive director of the school, and several Civility First board members attended an event in the jail’s library to recognize the winners.
“This year, you guys blew us away,” Bernhardt said, adding that their work had been judged by professional artists.
First place winner Victoria Garza also thanked those present for giving her an opportunity and a reason to create something. Her artwork depicted a sneaker with the words: “I would walk a mile in your shoes, but I already know they are just as uncomfortable as mine. Let’s walk next to each other instead.”
Garrett Edwards’ artwork was called “World Peace” and included a drawing of a globe to show the importance of people coming together.
Bowling explained that his piece meant that love, mercy, patience and respect is what God meant when he said to be the salt of the earth. His piece featured the periodic symbol for salt.
Pondexter Bryant drew an image of himself cleaning up his unit because he thought everyone could spend more time taking care of their environment and themselves.
Steven Daves was so inspired he drew a total of six pieces, all with a different message. One was a depiction of the Deception Pass Bridge at sunset, which he will soon be making into a mural in the jail. Daves said he is excited to do it even though he’s never painted before.
“Each of you have your experiences on that paper,” Briones said, adding that he could tell who created what piece just by looking at the images.
Civility First presented Briones with the organization’s annual civility award for his work toward building bridges within the community and modeling civility for others.
The ceremony concluded with pizza and soda, a welcome treat in the jail.