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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Christmas fantasies from prison

Show features 150 of the best artworks by young prisoners
22 January, 2008 - 00:00

Art shows have become a tradition at Ukraine’s State Department for Enforcement of Prison Sentences (DDUVP). It looks as though this state agency has decided to emulate the example portrayed in the film Respublika SHKID, where a drop wears away a stone. Today these young prisoners are painting, and tomorrow they will start singing carols, eventually becoming normal citizens of their country. Vasyl Koshchynets, the head of the DDUVP, says that the current exhibit of paintings and small models of churches, candlesticks, and other Christmas paraphernalia made by the young convicts will help them ponder the true meaning of life and save themselves.

This time 700 inmates took part in the show. Their works were examined by territorial directorates of the DDUVP, which selected 150 items for the exhibit.

“We decided to launch creative competitions in corrective labor colonies and penitentiaries all over Ukraine, so that the inmates, especially young people, could determine their priorities. These kinds of exhibits are thematic and encourage people to engage in reflections. If young men and women want to paint icons or saints, is this not proof of their spiritual growth?” Koshchynets commented.

Professional artists ponder divine images for months if not years, piecing together every part of the “jigsaw puzzle” before they start painting their icons. So when prisoners get down to such a serious task, the organizers of the show start believing that all is not lost.

Professor of Education Valentyna Orzhekhovska, who heads the Research and Methodological Center for Preventive Upbringing at the Academy of Pedagogical Sciences of Ukraine and has worked for many years with problem teenagers, told this reporter: “The trouble with our society is that many of these children — one-third of them — don’t really know why they ended up behind bars. There are no juvenile courts in Ukraine or court instructors, who can get to the bottom of every case, approach every problem in a complex manner, taking all specifics into account. To a large extent, this problem exists because children are raised by parents and taught by teachers the wrong way — or because there is no upbringing and education. We all know that a large number of parents leave their children unattended and travel abroad in search of jobs. More often than not, a young person makes the wrong kind of friends and finds himself involved in a criminal offence. Therefore, the idea of this exhibit, to attract children to the fine arts and crafts, is a positive factor. It can heal spiritual wounds, revive people morally and psychologically, and restore them to a normal life. The people who are currently in jail regard their participation in this exhibit as a return, but above all they want to justify themselves. Suffice it to say that 85 percent of juvenile delinquents are people with tragic life stories and have been deprived of parental care, love, and warm words.”

The organizers of the Christmas Star show say this is just the beginning. They promise that such creative competitions will continue to be held among prisoners, and the list of nominations will be expanded. In addition, the best works will be auctioned off and the proceeds will revert to the artists.

It would be strange if an exhibit like this were not visited by clergymen, in particular the members of the interconfessional Christian mission Spiritual and Benevolent Care in Penitentiaries.

“The Lord works in every person’s soul. There are people who have made a mistake, taken the wrong step, but God forgives everyone and bestows His love on them. His grace and goodness are working in the hearts of our brothers who are in jail. An example of this is these beautiful works whose light is radiant with blessings,” said Bishop Mykhailo while blessing the project.