Pamela Williams spent much of this year looking forward to Mondays and Tuesdays.
Those were the days the single mother of two said she was able to break from her usually-strict routine to work on her mural. They were days that gave her a purpose.
Williams, 50, of Landover is one of 16 women incarcerated at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility in Boyds who donated a mural to Manna Food Center in Gaithersburg this month as part of a project by the nonprofit Class Acts Arts. The project took them three months, and typifies the kind of art-focused rehabilitation efforts that some say are a success story for area corrections.
Williams is serving an 18-month sentence for forgery. She said her days are filled by the prison’s routine: Making her bed by 8 a.m.; being ready for lights out 12 hours later. She said much of it is just passing the time.
But the weeks working on the mural were different, she said. She was collaborating with fellow inmates, working with artist Joel Berger, and formulating a plan for the future.
“It was a beautiful thing,” she said. “It was beautiful because it was something that we did, something we worked on.”
Williams said she wants to start an afterschool recreational program for children when she’s released next year.
That focus on the future is central to what Class Acts Arts, Inc., a Silver Spring-based nonprofit arts organization, has been working to develop in inmates for the past 12 years in prisons such as Montgomery County Correctional, said Claire Schwadron, director of the program, titled Project Youth ArtReach.
“It does much for them to work with people from a culture different from theirs and give them ideas,” she said.
Currently, the group hosts regular art classes at the jail for young men and women of all ages. These include ceramics, painting, drumming, poetry, and dance classes. The women’s portion of the Boyds jail offers yoga classes.
It’s similar to an afterschool program the group does for at-risk youth, Schwadron said, as both are focused on building self-esteem, developing critical thinking skills, and fostering an interest in arts.
Montgomery County Correction Facility in Boyds is a short-term facility, for those awaiting trial or serving sentences of 18 months or less. The average stay is 33 days, said Deputy Warden Suzy Malagari.
Montgomery County’s Department of Corrections’ budget for this year is more than $65 million, $3.73 million more than last year. Almost 90 percent of that budget is for staffing costs.
The department has dedicated itself and a significant section of that personnel to rehabilitative programs, said Stefan LoBuglio chief of pre-release and re-entry services for the department.
Prisoners with six months left in their sentences transition from prison life back into everyday society through LoBuglio’s 171-bed center, which allows them to leave during the day and requires them to find employment and a place to live before releasing them.
At the Pre-Release Center, located in White Flint, inmates are called “residents” and spend time reconnecting with family. Counselors work in developing a sense of empathy with inmates. Like the art program, part of the focus is convincing convicts they can change.
“They’re getting a sense that this is an institution that cares about their welfare,” LoBuglio said. “That makes a difference.”
The county consistently has held an average of 1,000 inmates per day since 2003, that rate fluctuating only a few percent since then. Montgomery spends slightly more per person per day to house inmate than neighboring jurisdictions, $182 per person per day in fiscal 2012 compared to an estimated $152 in Fairfax County, Va., according to a March performance review of the department.
Program Youth ArtReach has a budget of $220,000, about half of which is supported by a state grant, Schwadron said. The rest comes from private contributions.
But Montgomery County’s jails also see a relatively low number of violent incidents. The county’s jails saw eight assaults on staff in fiscal 2011, the most recent year for which such data was available.
Like Williams, Brian Henrey has developed a plan for when he leaves Montgomery County correctional during his art classes. The 19-year-old Clarksburg resident is three months into a 15-month sentence for robbery.
Henrey said he plans to go to college after finishing high school within the Department of Corrections. He wants to move to Miami, Fla. and stay out of trouble.
He said he’s looking for what the art program is promising: a chance to start over.
“It’s never too late,” he said.