Traverse City Record-Eagle

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February 20, 2014

Inmate arts program inspires pride, self-confidence

TRAVERSE CITY — Diane Speas’ art students learn to use pastels, quilt, crochet and even tie flies for fly fishing.

But her students don’t go home when class ends; they just head back to their dorms.

Speas is a corrections officer at Leelanau County’s jail, and she’s teaching inmates, not college students.

“Some of these people have never accomplished anything or finished anything, and then they make a hat, or something else they made themselves,” Speas said. “They are so proud, so proud, because they’re never been given the opportunity to do that before.”

Leelanau County’s inmate arts program is funded almost entirely by donations. The program launched about five years ago and recently received its annual $750 contribution from the Suttons Bay Art Festival.

“We hope the stuff they’re learning and doing they can take with them to be more productive on the outside,” said Lt. Todd Roush, the jail administrator. “It’s also a good behavior management tool.”

The program aims to give inmates a skill they can use later in life, but with Speas at the helm, inmates come away from the program with the sense someone believes in them.

“What I find especially remarkable about it is, here, you have a corrections officer who does this and she’s kind and she’s accepting and nonjudgmental and wants to teach us new things,” said Shannon Woods, an inmate serving time for a drug case.

Picking up a pencil and drawing helps Woods channel some of her depression into something positive, she said.

“This art class provides hope that we can actually achieve something while we’re in here,” said Woods. “Being a drug addict, when you learn new things, it’s a good outlet.”

That’s exactly what county Sheriff Mike Borkovich hopes inmates receive from the classes.

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