Staying Out Of Jail

Pop-up art show seeks to raise awareness

Posted: November 10, 2017 at 2:05 a.m.

Courtesy photo Kirk Montgomery is one of many local artists who will be participating in the "Women in Jail" pop-up art event. Artwork will be available for purchase.
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Courtesy photo Kirk Montgomery is one of many local artists who will be participating in the "Women in Jail" pop-up art event. Artwork will be available for purchase.

A one-day pop-up art show featuring local artists will be held from noon until midnight Saturday in downtown Springdale. The show, called "Women in Jail," is the brainchild of Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette news reporter Scarlet Sims, who wanted to bring community attention to a troubling trend in the Northwest Arkansas area.

"I look at the bail logs all the time and have for the last few years," says Sims of her weekly work routine. "I've been seeing more and more young women in these logs. Our area is seeing an increase in women in jail -- 33 percent of our jail population is women. I also cover [the work of nonprofit organization] Judicial Equality for Mental Illness, so I'm hearing more and more about how drug and alcohol abuse is tearing apart families. It creates this cycle."

FAQ

‘Women in Jail’

WHEN — Noon-midnight Saturday

WHERE — 101 W. Johnson Ave. in Springdale

COST — Free

INFO — scarlet.a.sims@gmail.com

Sims says she was drawn to the subject because of her own personal history, which includes family members with substance abuse problems. A self-taught artist, she started painting portraits of the women whose booking photos she was seeing on a daily basis.

"A mugshot is probably one of the worst moments of these people's lives," she says. "Or the start of their rock bottom. Sometimes you can just tell that. There's always something magical about the eyes."

It occurred to her that other people might be as moved by the portraits as she was, so the "Women in Jail" event was born.

"It's education meets art," says Sims. "We're having three different speakers on this particular topic. The plan is to talk about the issues, and hopefully people will become more aware.

"I have a theory that people are not going to help as much if they don't empathize. Inspiring stories are great: It looks like those people are succeeding and don't need the help -- but that's not always the case. Most people who come out of jail go back to jail." In fact, she says, Arkansas has nearly a 53 percent recidivism rate.

The event's proceeds will benefit Northwest Arkansas' Returning Home Center, a coalition of eight nonprofit agencies housed under one roof in Springdale, all offering services to help ease re-entry for men and women recently released from incarceration. Casady Saunders is a receptionist with the organization, a position she took after serving time in jail. She says she was happy when she heard about Sims' plan to hold this art show, because she wants more people to know about the Center, which was instrumental in helping her find her footing upon release.

"Routine and support are the things that are going to keep a person from re-offending," she says. "If you can get out and not do drugs and not be criticized constantly and not have a stamp on your head that says 'failure' -- if you can get support from the community, if you can get people that say, 'Yes, you can do this,' that keeps people from re-offending."

Nick Robbins is Returning Home's executive director. He says the rise in incarceration of women has had far-reaching implications in the community.

"The women are often the caregivers for their families, so there has been a huge impact, locally," says Robbins. "It really surprised us when we first opened in March: We average about 40 clients a month, and 43 percent of our clients are women. Almost 100 percent of the women being released are seeking out help, and we're only seeing about 20 percent of the men."

That will soon change, says Robbins, as a new regulation means that individuals released from jail in the Northwest Arkansas area are now required to attend a two-day re-entry seminar that will seek to give them the tools to find work and housing and avoid the pitfalls that might lead them to re-offending. Robbins says he hopes the "Women in Jail" event will help raise the organization's community profile in time to get additional support, as the number of people it serves is expected to triple soon.

"The hope is to find other like-minded folks that are saying, 'I didn't know this was such an issue.' If you're a business or a church or an organization, how can you plug in? How can you help with the barriers of recidivism? The main thing is that these people are getting out and going back to the same places they were arrested, so that cycle continues. If you haven't changed anything while you were incarcerated, if you haven't been given the tools to achieve what you desire, you're going to re-offend.

"If we could partner more with the community, if we could have the community embrace them, if you're willing to help here, there's a real way to change lives."

NAN What's Up on 11/10/2017