Soroptimist International of Vacaville raised funds for art supplies
Story by Krissi Khokhobashvili, CDCR Public Information Officer
Video by Jeff Baur, Television Specialist
Office of Public and Employee Communications
The walls of the visiting room at California Medical Facility (CMF) have transformed from stark white into a vivid depiction of California landmarks, thanks to the Solano County community and a team of talented inmates.
“It is extremely beneficial for visiting,” said Community Resource Manager Landon Bravo, who organized the project. “One of the basic concepts when we started the project was to transform the visiting room from sterile white walls and vending machines to someplace you could go inside and forget you’re actually in a prison setting.”
Mission accomplished. The visiting room is now awash in color, every inch of the wall painted to portray California scenery. A walk around the room takes you to Monterey Bay, Yosemite, Napa and the Sierra Nevada. The large-scale project took months to complete, and the man who oversaw the project is extremely proud of the work he and his fellow artists accomplished.
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“I had never done anything on this scale before,” said Marion Meux, who has been incarcerated for 30 years. “I jumped at the chance – it was an opportunity.”
It was also an opportunity for community partnership. The prison’s Citizens Advisory Committee was looking for a fundraiser, and the beautification project fit the bill. The nonprofit Soroptimist International of Vacaville assisted in the effort, raising funds to purchase all of the art supplies. It was then Bravo’s job to find the right artists for the job, and as he began asking around the prison, Meux’s name kept coming up.
Meux had never attempted to paint before coming to prison. He was inspired by fellow inmates’ artwork, and encouraged by correctional officers to participate in Arts-in-Corrections programs. He started painting at San Quentin State Prison in the 1990s, and has been painting every day since.
“It’s an extremely therapeutic endeavor for me,” Meux said. “It allows me to explore my inner self, my inner soul.”
Under Bravo’s guidance, Meux assembled a team of racially and artistically diverse men to assist in the project. Everybody on the team has since paroled, with the exception of Meux, but their legacy will remain on the walls of the visiting room.
Meux shared how the project was about more than paint and brushes. Taking their task very seriously, the artists meticulously researched California’s history and geography to ensure each detail is accurate. In the smaller children’s area, the walls are covered in an animal-themed mural so carefully researched that animals that would not normally exist together are nowhere near one another. An added bonus: The children’s mural is covered with a protective coating that makes it easy to wipe up a spill or handprint. At night, the jellyfish in the underwater section of the mural glow.
A room inside a prison is not your typical canvas. There are bars on the windows and fire extinguishers on the walls, for example.
“Those are opportunities,” Meux smiled. “That’s the way you have to look at it.”
The painting continues onto light switches and window bars, so seamlessly incorporating the “obstacles” that one can hardly tell they are there. The ability to work through such challenges has become second nature to Meux, who often incorporates found objects and nontraditional materials into his artwork, the result of limited resources combined with endless creativity.
“I make it do what I want it to do,” Meux said of his works. “I’ll use Kool-Aid. I’ll use mustard to mix paint. There’s a painting in there that was done with coffee.”
Bravo said having such a warm environment is important not only for the families visiting to feel at ease, but also for the inmates to ease them out of the prison environment as they prepare to one day return home.
“When the inmates come inside this kind of environment for their visits, it’s a comforting feeling to them,” he observed.
The art doesn’t stop at the visiting room. CMF is home to the state’s first prison hospice, and one of the men painting the visiting room was also an inmate hospice volunteer. He suggested that painting the outdoor hospice area would be beneficial to the patients, who are unable to spend their yard time on the general population recreation yard. They also receive their visits in the hospice, and this would provide a decorated space for their visits. Today, the hospice patio is just as colorful as the visiting room, featuring a seaside-themed mural complete with a lighthouse, the ocean and a boat sailing into the distance.
“It gives a uniqueness to the hospice,” Bravo commented. “When you go inside, it’s a hospital setting, and then when you come outside, you can actually relax. You’ve got fresh air, a nice beautiful mural, and it really just bridges the gap between the community’s involvement and the inmate-patient care that we provide at CMF.”
While the mural project may be completed, art will never stop for Meux. His paintings are on display throughout CMF and other prisons, including two portraits he has painted for wardens. Another room at CMF is covered with portraits of legendary jazz artists and political figures, and a touching portrait he created in honor of his wife. Meux is also an active teacher, making himself available to fellow inmates interested in learning how to paint – and willing to put in the work. He said he gains the most from sharing his skills, both in terms of helping others and in honing his own craft.
“It’s fun, it’s enjoyable,” he said of painting. “You’re in prison. You have to be very mindful of your surroundings at all times. Here is something that you can do where you can relax. I can see what’s really going on underneath.”