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From Southern California, public radio for your eyes.

Making art in prison

Most of the 3,400 inmates at Norco's state prison spend their time in a housing unit or recreation area.

But on some Tuesday mornings, a handful of inmates can be found inside a small trailer taking a painting class.

The class is put on by Cal Poly Pomona's Prison Education Project. It's one of the last art programs left in California prisons.

Listen to the story on KPCC.org.

Getting into a California state prison is no easy task. It took Mary Plummer, KPCC’s arts education reporter, several months to finally get us access to this class.

Finally, we received a date – Tuesday, November 19.

A few days before arriving, the media liaison told us not to wear blue jeans, to stay away from blue and orange, and anything too revealing or flashy. We also couldn’t bring lighters, tobacco or weapons.

Ahead of our visit he asked to send a list of all the items we would be bringing with us inside our bags – camera lenses, recorders, memory cards and so on.

We met at about 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday morning outside the prison entrance. The parking lot was huge and packed with cars.

After going through metal detectors and checking our bags we waited to meet the media liaison.

He drove us in a golf cart around the perimeter of the prison, along double fences with barbed wire. We went up a hill and past the outdoor recreation area with a grassless field and track, tables where inmates read and outdoor gym equipment.

We parked outside a group of a small temporary trailers, each with numbers above the door.

Inmates were still arriving one-by-one for class. In-progress canvases leaned against the front wall of the classroom. Each student went through the stack and pulled out their painting.

Each painting was different – landscapes, sunsets, portraits, animals.

As I walked around taking pictures, I heard the teacher, Tom Skelly, give a lot of painting lessons familiar from my days as an undergrad art major.

What’s the complimentary color to red? Green. Never paint with color straight out of the tube, color always looks better mixed.

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