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Art Made Behind Bars Gets Public Viewing

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4min 02sec
One of the pieces that will be featured in this weekend’s “Chained Voices” exhibition in Denver.

For inmates with artistic inclinations, there’s a lot of spare time in prison to paint, sketch, bead and write poetry. But the public doesn’t always get to see the artwork prisoners create. A few years ago, a group of defense attorneys and social workers started an event to showcase what they saw as the extraordinary talent of their clients. They collected inmates’ artwork from prisons across Colorado and in 2015, held the first "Chained Voices" exhibition in Denver. 

One of the inmates whose work has been shown at the event is Jeff Johnson, who was released from prison a year ago. Now that Johnson's out of prison, he'll be able to attend "Chained Voices" for the first time. The former inmate, who did a lot of beadwork while he was incarcerated, says making art was a way to escape from the prison environment and get lost in an activity. Ashley Ratliff, one of the defense attorneys who started the program, says people make a lot of assumptions about prisoners, and she wanted to find a way to show the community how gifted many of them are. The exhibition takes place Friday and Saturday at the Denver Art Society.