Inmates at the Hamilton County Jail were challenged to create a mural expressing their message to
people “on the outside.” After discussing the stigma associated with being an offender and the “us vs.
them” culture they experience, participants decided to demonstrate the idea that after rejoining society, they could be worthwhile citizens capable of creating work that beautifies neighborhoods.
To best depict this idea, they settled on the theme of birds, "beautiful creatures experiencing freedom."
Inmates started by drawing bird structures that evolved into individualized birds crafted from their
imaginations. Digital versions of their drawings were organized into a composition sized to fit the
billboard’s location during photo shop sessions in the jail classroom. The birds were scaled, traced onto parachute cloth, and then painted during their classes.
From preliminary discussions to the finished piece, Birds of Freedom took one year to complete. During that time, about 75 inmates attended art classes funded by the Tennessee Arts Commission and had a hand in creating this mural.
A comment from an inmate evaluation read, “I learned, and am still learning, how to deal with and work with people. Learning a lot of art skills is fun. I love everything about this class.”
Mark Making has hosted classes in the Hamilton County Jail almost every Friday night since 2012. Mark Making seeks to empower individuals and transform communities through the arts. They work primarily with children, teens and adults with disabilities, the homeless and incarcerated.