It all began late last summer when restorative arts facilitator Dee Myers asked restorative justice circle facilitator Jo Bauen whether she would like to collaborate on a mosaic arts project for parolees, sponsored by the California Arts Commission. This seemed like a perfect opportunity for members of the Citizen Circle, a weekly restorative justice circle for people on parole, to try their hand at mosaic arts. It was an opportunity to use the arts to express the restorative themes of truth, forgiveness, conflict, and accountability, and it was an opportunity for the power of arts to uplift each participant and to strengthen the group as a whole. Finally, it was an opportunity for Jo to use her background in mosaic tile work in the context of restorative justice. Needless to say, the Citizen circle accepted Dee’s invitation!
Dee began by leading the group in a brainstorm potential topics for the art project. The Citizens Circle is open to all who care to join, and is made up of equal numbers of parolees and never-incarcerated individuals. Participant spoke of their desire to rebuild their identity, to deal with racial profiling, and to successfully transition from prison to free society. We discussed our values and guidelines, and established group safety. Dee helped build confidence with arts-based team building exercises. Based on participant input we organize a 10 week program that resulted in 14 stunning mosaic self-portraits.
Mosaic requires a lot of physical materials: broken tile, pebbles, mirrors, artifacts, backer board and adhesive. Preparing the tile takes a variety of tools: diamond saw, neighbors, score and snap, hammers, eye and skin protection. Week by week the project grew to fill large community space. Each week we had to line the floors with drop cloths, prep the mosaic materials for 15 participants, organize the setting materials, the tools, and the safety equipment. Each week the participants arrive, looked at our enormous set up, and for the most part everyone got to work. Some people jump right in, others hesitated, chatted, and hung in the background. A few resisted but that was OK, we set up a space for people to chill. Mosaic is slow and there is a world of options for how one might proceed. But shoulder to shoulder, women and men, white and black, incarcerated or never incarcerated, timid artists and brave, proceed we did.
The project continued through the summer, and at last, one or two portraits were nearing completion. That inspired other artist to attempt completion. Soon it was time to grout the initial artworks. Grouting is messy, frustrating, difficult, destructive to your skin and eyes, and did I say messy? I almost gave up one night while teaching-helping-grouting-answering questions-breaking tile-gluing tile and grouting, “What in the *&$%# are we doing here?” I believe I said, angrily, but then we grouted a couple pieces, and they started to shine. Our CFO nearly threw the book at us for inadequate keep clean up. But we made it through. At last all pieces were finished. We mounted them in a sunny conference room and had track lights installed so the artwork is featured.
And on April 16, 2019, CWW hosted an evening of food and music to honor the artwork. A large crowd stood circle-fashion to hear from the artists and to offer our hopes for all men and women reentering society from prison. People said, “I hope they all learn to forgive themselves.” “I hope they find connection and love.” And, “I hope they find a circle of trusting people who help them rebuild their lives like this one.”