By Mary Evans
Five amazing individuals, Aimee Wissman, Rae Scruggs, Whitney Johnson, Charlotte McGraw and Tyra Patterson are all formerly incarcerated or were placed in an institution. These women are using their artistic abilities to help not only themselves, but other individuals struggling with mental health, use art as a coping tool.
This new campaign is bringing awareness to the stigmas associated with mental health.
Love Your Neighbor Ohio is an ongoing initiative of Accompanying Returning Citizens with Hope (ARCH) meant to educate the public about the realities of incarceration in Ohio, and in particular the unique challenges women face after being incarcerated.
Accompanying Returning Citizens with Hope is a program designed to help meet the needs of individuals who have been incarcerated, also referred to as returning or restored citizens.
Adequate mental health is extremely difficult for Returned Citizens and incarcerated individuals to receive. I know firsthand the inequities one faces when trying to seek mental health help.
When you leave prison, you are given only 30 days’ worth of the prescribed medications from the mental health provider. Also, in those 30 days you have to get medical insurance, find a doctor or counselor specializing in mental health, and secure an appointment before the medication runs out.
In the carceral environment, most of the incarcerated individuals have no control over their day-to-day life, no family support, and limited access to address other barriers that could potentially deter them from transitioning back into society
This campaign highlights women affected by the carceral system and their use of art as the facet to their returning to society transition. These amazing artists are taking their traumas and are confronting them through art.
Artist Charlotte McGraw was placed in an institution at the age of 16 and did not leave until she was 28 years old. She found art as a way to help her voice be heard. After several attempts to be heard, an employee at the institution noticed how amazing Charlotte’s art was. They also noticed that Charlotte did not need to be medicated or even in a lockdown facility. Her artwork was her way out.
“A system that makes money off of people’s lives is the same system that the US has built its foundation on,” Returning Artists Guild co-founder and artist Aimee Wissman said, “People who go to prison have a lot of real-world problems that could be solved by spending the carceral budget on things like adequate, accessible mental health care, education, and medical care.”
A percentage of this project will be given to the artists for their work. The remaining amount will be used to support women coming home from incarceration with their housing, transportation, clothing, and food needs.
You can see the artist’s stories, purchase prints, and learn more about the artwork and campaign by visiting loveyourneighborohio.com.
ARCH is a 501c3 nonprofit based in Central Ohio that has been assisting individuals returning from incarceration since 2015. ARCH provides direct services to returning citizens, a business network for second chance employers, in-reach and reentry preparation at prisons, and education within the wider community on issues related to incarceration and how individuals and groups can become involved in reentry programs. www.archreentry.com
The writer Mary Evans is a journalist, radio producer, and social justice activist. She uses her platform to provide space for underrepresented communities. Mary graduated from Antioch College and is an ACLU OH State Action Team Member and also a volunteer in the Ohio Prison System.
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