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In Coastal Delaware, Prisoners Use Art To Break Cycle Of Crime

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As part of a small program, prisoners at one prison in coastal Delaware get once-a-week therapeutic art classes.
WAMU/Bryan Russo
As part of a small program, prisoners at one prison in coastal Delaware get once-a-week therapeutic art classes.

A 2013 study in Delaware found that 80 percent of the inmates in the state's prison system end up back in jail within three years of their release. But now a small art program in one of the prisons near the coast is trying to change that.

Chase Fehrenbach was in his early 20's when a rampant heroin addiction pushed him to commit armed robberies. He's now six years into a 21-year sentence at the Sussex Correctional Institution in Georgetown.

But each Friday, Chase and 20 other inmates here enjoy the best part of their week — the two-hour therapeutic art class.

"It's been my saving grace. It's been an escape for me pretty much every day, cause every day is a complete struggle," he says.

The program is independently funded, so all the paints, brushes and other supplies that are available to these prison artists come from the prisoners' two-dollar-a-month dues or money raised at an exhibition at a nearby art gallery where their work has been on display for the past few weeks.

Fehrenbach's art career has kind of taken off since he's been here, and he hopes art this class will help him break the cycle many inmates in Delaware fall into: They get out, and they end up coming right back in.

Randolph Graham is serving a life sentence for murder, and says that he believes that when the public sees their art, they don't care that it was created by convicted criminals.

"It puts more of a face on us as inmates, more than just a guy that's a throwaway or no good or anything like that. There's a whole other side to us," he says.

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