By Robert P. Brown, Community Resources Manager
Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility

Photography by Peter Merts

While some see prison walls, others see a wall worthy of hanging a masterpiece.

The staff at Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility (RJDCF) is working to bring more art behind the walls through two endeavors: one involving paint, the other actors.

Photographer Peter Merts recently visited RJDCF to take pictures of the burgeoning art scene.

RJDCF Sgt. E. Alvarez spearheaded a project to have inmates paint a mural on the walls of the Receiving and Release (R&R) building

The mural depicts downtown San Diego waterfront in the early 1940s. The mural spans the length of the R&R building with “amazing detail and historical accuracy,” according to those close to the project.

RJDCF is currently partnering with Project PAINT, an awardee of a grant through the William James Foundation. Project PAINT (Prison Arts Initiative) is non-profit started by local grad student Laura Pecenco.

The inmates who participate in the project are creating five large murals to be displayed on a rotating schedule in the visiting rooms. The paintings are on 8-foot-by-7-foot wood panels.

“These paintings … will liven up the spaces in which loved ones are able to visit,” according to a description of the project on UC San Diego Department of Sociology’s web page.

Besides the generating artwork for the visiting rooms the inmates develop better communication, consensus building and problem solving techniques, according to those with the project.

More creative endeavors are on the way at the facility.

RJDCF is planning to start a new creative writing program dubbed the Playwrights Project, which is another awardee of a grant from the William James Foundation.

The Playwrights Project will provide professional actors a chance to perform the plays written by the inmates in hopes this performance art will provide new perspective for the inmates on their tendencies toward criminal behavior.