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Breaking the mold: Art class teaches inmates the value of quiet time

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

The hands on a clock in the Georgetown County Detention Center re-entry program art room are stopped at 3:58. Time is not that important here, only that it passes.

These men have been in jail for years — some have years more to go — but they are going to be free one day, and Sheriff Lane Cribb doesn’t want them to return. For the past seven years, Debbie Barr has run the sheriff’s program that prepares inmates to re-enter the world. Of the 128 graduates, none has ever been reincarcerated. Having and holding a job is the most important thing for these men, but success on the outside takes subtle skills too. That’s where this art class comes in.

Carla Minervini, owner of All Fired Up, a pottery studio in the Island Shops at Pawleys Island, doesn’t expect any masterpieces from her Monday night classes at the Georgetown County Detention Center.

It’s not about the art, she tells a dozen inmates in the program. It’s about spending quiet, contemplative time.

“I know what it does for people in my studio,” Minervini said, “I watch moms and kids have this great experience. I didn’t open my studio because people are going to make some fantastic art. I opened it because I wanted to sell time together.”

Minervini rediscovered the benefits of the craft while visiting her daughter in Gainesville, Fla. “She said, ‘Let’s go paint pottery.’ We used to do that when she was little. I had such an incredible hour with her in quiet conversation. I felt so close and so connected to her life for that short time, and I said I want to bring this to Pawleys Island.”

Minervini got involved with the re-entry program when inmates painted bowls and plates for Habitat for Humanity’s Souper Bowl. “No doubt about it,” she said, “that was a fabulous form of therapy: relaxing, calming, thinking, planning, everything about it. Your blood pressure goes down, and you get to use your creative skills.”

Minervini donates her time and all the supplies for the pottery class. She takes the painted pottery to her shop for glazing and firing. The inmates will give the finished pieces, like this week’s cellphone holders, as gifts to visitors.

“Stuff like this and our life skills classes change their way of thinking,” Barr says.

She holds graduates of the program up as examples for the others. One who took automotive training owns a body shop with his own wreckers. Others have gotten jobs like the ones on a poster in the art room: mechanic, annual salary: $37,230; brick mason, $31,450; heating air conditioning and refrigeration, $47,980.

“A lot of them have been in for a long time” Barr says. “They get every kind of training. One has an associate degree in theology and wants to be a preacher. Six weeks before they get out, we look for employment specific to their skills, arrange housing and transportation. They go into a good paying job.”

Barr says the art program is new, springing from the inmates’ experience with painting bowls and plates for Habitat for Humanity’s Souper Bowl fundraiser. “That’s how I met Carla,” she says. “She came down one night and had a paint project for them, and it grew from there. They totally enjoy it. It’s an absolutely wonderful program.”

Minervini admires Barr’s dedication to these men. “She’s their rock, so to speak. It’s an amazing situation, between 12 and 15 guys I’ve seen in the program,” she says. “She’s been doing this 34 years and been with our detention center for seven years with zero returns. How phenomenal is that? These guys are out. They’re becoming functioning members of society after an awful experience. The only ones who can get into this program to grow and become better citizens are those who have repented and taken responsibility for their crimes. They are kind of grateful and say if this is what it took for me to become the man I’m supposed to be and the father I’m supposed to be, so be it. It’s a big education: seven years, 15 years, whatever. They’ve accepted it and found their spiritual souls. That’s why I want to help.”

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