Culture » Visual Arts

Michael Layman finds liberation and direction in prison arts program

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MICHAEL LAYMAN
  • Michael Layman
Michael Layman, 53, is new to painting and artmaking. Most of his life, he’s worked various labor gigs, from ranches and oil fields to auto body shops and in homes, doing flooring installation. But in art, he’s discovered meaning and freedom.

“I am finding that art is not something that you just do, it’s who you are,” he says via email.

Currently, he makes art out of Florence, where he’s an inmate at the U.S. Penitentiary, serving a five-year sentence for drugs and possession of a firearm. It’s not his first time in prison — he says he’s spent three-fourths of his life behind bars. But, hopefully, art will help this be his last sentence.

Layman’s part of a program called the Creative Arts Platform (CAP). It was started in 2014 by employees of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), inspired in part by programs like Arts in Corrections, run by the California Department of Corrections. CAP’s a combination of art therapy and vocational training, both helping inmates express themselves healthily in a tense environment, and preparing them to engage with the business side of the arts world once they get out.

“I got involved with the CAP program when I was approached by the chaplain’s assistant [Justin] Reddick, who I worked for at [U.S. Penitentiary] Florence...” says Layman, adding that he holds Reddick in high esteem. Reddick has a storied career as a painter, best known for works he’s described as “visual diaries,” mostly shown in Pueblo, his former home. So Layman fully expected a sound arts education. But the therapy side caught him off guard, and at first, he was reluctant to stick with it. He’s glad he did — he says it’s given him a more positive way to cope with his problems and something positive to focus on as he serves his sentence, complementary to his faith.

“This program opened a floodgate of emotions and creativity that I was unaware existed,” he says. “It helped me see things in a completely different way, and to express what I was feeling inside. It brought me healing and a form of freedom that cannot be taken from me.”

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