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Chocolate Beyond the Bars

I created Chocolate Beyond the Bars for Heather Hart’s ‘Bartertown’, held in Brooklyn, NY in December of 2015. It was inspired by an art class that I teach at the Columbia County Jail, Hudson, NY as a volunteer for ReEntry, an organization which provides services for returning citizens. Participants at Bartertown were asked to translate emotions into clay using abstract forms. While participants translated their words into clay, we talked about all sorts of issues around incarceration, specifically in a rural environment.  Each participant received a draw string bag with a chocolate form (of the word ‘confidence’) in exchange for their efforts.


Here is a some background on the original project at the Columbia County Jail:

We created a collective, brain-stormed list of emotion words, making categories of positive and negative. Then the students were asked to select one word from each list and translate it into clay, abstractly. This is not an easy task. I use a series of questions as prompts to facilitate the translation. Is ‘lonely‘ smooth or rough? is it tall or flat? Is it heavy or light?  A man in one of the CCJ classes made a small clay form for ‘confidence’. With his permission I made a silicone mold of it.  From this I cast chocolates, wrapped them up in some shiny red foil, and then made the drawstring bags with the emotion words printed on them. Participants in Brooklyn were asked to select a word from the list created by my class at CCJ.


About a year ago, I began working as a volunteer for ReEntry.  ReEntry’s pilot program at the CCJ includes four week courses in a range of topics from personal growth to practical skills. Working within the restrictions and at times seemingly arbitrary rules of what materials can be brought into the Jail, what can be done with the finished works, and how to build this into our projects has been both challenging and thought-provoking.  

Working with ReEntry has also lead to participation in an exhibition at the Greene County Council for the Arts in Catskill, NY in September 2015 and providing a talk with a hands on component in November 2015 for a group of freshmen from Siena College focusing on issues of incarceration.




Collaged images of classroom installation for exhibition at Greene County Council for the Arts, Sept. 2015


(Top left: installation view of the humble materials allowed into the jail, top right: "Loving," center: book with images of inmates works, bottom right: Columbia County Jail, bottom left: "Frustrated.")

Brooklyn participant

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