Behind the fences and beneath the barbed wire of Allendale Correctional Institution (ACI), is a group of men who proudly call themselves The Advanced Artists of Allendale. They’ve each demonstrated a willingness to try new mediums, practice new skills and through that, they’ve displayed a passion that- before prison- they never knew they had.
“I’ve had a rough childhood. I didn’t come from a place where people did art, other than graffiti art,” inmate Terry B. said. “I’d been in a gang, I’d been in rough situations coming up. I’d been around drugs and violence my whole life. So the way art changed me is that it showed me that there was another way. It showed me that I wasn’t this bad person; I wasn’t the environment that I came from. And it showed me that I had skills inside of myself that helped me to have self-esteem,” he added.
Terry, who entered prison as a teenager, said before he discovered his artistic abilities, he was always depressed.
“I came from a household that was depressing. So it was natural that I would follow that. But art has really helped me to expand my horizons. It’s helped me to lift myself out of that dark situation that I’d been in. It enlightened me. It showed me a whole other world that I never knew existed,” he said.
The paints, canvases, and instruction by professional artists don’t cost taxpayers a dime. The supplies are donations from community members who’ve heard about what’s happening at ACI, usually by way of a volunteer like Delane Marynowski, who was all-in after just one visit.
“I used to work with victims of violent crimes where I lived. And when my girlfriend asked me to come here, I said, ‘No way. I’m on the other side of the fence.’” Marynowski said.
Marynowski explained how her friend told her about the men studying art, an interest she shared. “So I came out with an intention of doing no more than making a donation of art supplies. And I met them. And I realize that these are men who are genuinely working to be the men that they are meant to be on this earth. And they are working very hard in all aspects of their life. And art has been the changing force within their hearts and their lives,” she said.
In very little time, Marynowski began to shift her view on helping the inmates. “These men are coming back into our community. So we have a choice. Do we want men to come back who’ve been in prison and learned more street skills and they’re going to be in our community? Or do we want men to come out as changed individuals who have something positive to contribute to our society?” Marynowski said.
Marynowki is one of dozens of volunteers from all across the state who makes the trip to rural Fairfax, South Carolina every week. After getting acquainted with the men and their skillset, she organized weekly visits from professional artists who represent different mediums.
“Most of our artists have one or two mediums that they specialize in, but they have to learn all the mediums. So, sometimes it’s very intimidating for them and they do it. They put themselves out there. They’re learning and growing and it’s very, very exciting,” she said.
For many, this new adventure is sparking ideas and dreams. “This is what I want to do. This is my future. This is what I want to do when I get out. I don’t even think about welding anymore. Because my life is built around Christ and painting,” ACI resident Ronald W. said.
And come August, they’ll get a chance to show their skills—their souls—to the outside world. For so long, they’ve been encouraged by officers and fellow inmates. But in a first-time-ever experience, this summer their art goes on display in a Lowcountry gallery.
“They are going to be the featured artists at The Art League of Hilton Head in August. And so for a month they will have their pieces there and be featured and be recognized in the artistic community as artists. And this is huge. Because now they will be identified not only as a man but as an artist and seen as an artist,” Marynowski said.
It’s yet another opportunity happening through the heart and mission of a volunteer. At Allendale Correctional, the residents realize the volunteers are their avenue for hope and healing.
“Those are the people who have shown me a new way,” Terry B. said. “Those are the people who have come here and they didn’t have to care about people like us. They’ve come in and they’ve showed us that they genuinely care and a lot of us guys have never had that - we’ve never had people that care and care about our future. I think these people are a God-send,” he said.
Marynowski finds her work at ACI to be fulfilling and rewarding. Looking back, she’s thankful she took the opportunity to share her gifts. “I’ve done a lot of charity work in my lifetime. And none of it has touched me like this,” Marynowski said. “Every time I come here, I see lives being changed more and more. And I see the hard work they’re doing. Because change just doesn’t happen. You have to put in hard work and you have to put in commitment and they’re doing that. And the things that I can do to help facilitate their skills and change their lives—has blessed me, I think, more than it’s blessed them.”