Sample Book pages (publishing in progress)

Time Served Workshop

Sample of inmate Life Maps: California Men's Colony

California Men's Colony, SATF Corcoran, California State Prison, Lancaster, California Institution for Women - 9" X 12"  Acrylic on canvas

The use of arts as rehabilitation for those that are incarcerated works towards a model of incarceration as a rehabilitative rather than punitive practice. Evidence has shown that arts programs within prisons are excellent outlets for self-expression and personal achievement as well as provide therapeutic and healing benefits. Expressive Art Workshops offer inmates and opportunity to be seen as emotionally available and creative human beings capable of change and empathy despite their crimes. The Human Element Project has developed a series of thought provoking workshops specifically designed to offer inmates an opportunity for self-exploration and expression through a variety of art mediums combined with expressive writing.

Sample letter written by the inmate to the juvenile (transcription (right)

California Institution for Women - 36" x 48" Acrylic on 12 canvasas

Rehabilitative Expressive Art Workshops for prison inmates and incarcerated youth

Sample of Juvenile Life Maps

INMATE PROMPT: The inmate participants are asked to visually recount the major events in their life that have lead them to their life in prison. A large red circle is drawn to reflect the inmate’s point of transition when their decision landed them in prison instead of allowing them to be free. The remainder of the painting illustrates the two possible outcomes depending on the decision they made.

YOUTH PROMPT: The youth participants are asked to visually recount the events in their life that have lead them to their current situation. A large red circle is drawn to represent their current moment in time when their next decision can decide the rest of their life. The piece will be considered complete at this point.

The youth’s Life Map is then shared with an inmate. The inmate is asked to carefully review their story and their art and to reply to them with a personal letter acknowledging their story and offering them a personal ‘inmate’ perspective as to how they might make a better choice when they reach that ‘red’ circle.

The Years Served workshop is designed to be a culminating project that summarizes the work that we have done previously.  The participants were given their previously painted self-portraits mounted on foam board and cut into 12 - 3 x 3" squares. Each inmates was given one blank square to represent each year they have served in prison (this ranged from 4 to 34 years). They were asked to visually and verbally chronicle their years of incarceration. When assembled together the final piece will depict the participant’s self-image and their step-by-step challenging and inspiring journey of being incarcerated.

Life Mapping is one of the many Expressive Art Workshops offered by The Human Element Project. In this workshop, our goal is to pair inmates for life, one-on-one with at risk youth that have already committed minor crimes and have been incarcerated in a juvenile detention facility.

Our objective is for inmates and youth to independently create a ‘Life Map’ of their life beginning from birth to present. The map will be a combination of simple drawings, words and paint. The inmates and the youth will use their artwork to communicate with one another about the road they’ve taken and the consequences they are facing for making poor choices - with a focus on pinpointing that moment in time when a life-changing decision has or could be made.

California Men's Colony, SATF Corcoran, California State Prison, Lancaster - 26" X 60"  Acrylic on banner cloth

Body Mural Painting Workshop

From the Inside Out

NOTE: These are only a few samples of the workshops we offer. Each program can be modified to accommodate and specific space and time requirements of your institution.


This workshop was completed at the California Institution for Women in Chino, CA. The women went through the process of doing a self portrait and then selected a name and sub-title for an their own autobiography. They were also asked to write an about the author for the inside of their book jacket.

Life Mapping - At Risk Youth and Inmates for Life

As part of a 6 workshop series, the women in our class at the California Institution for Women collaborated to illustrate the the words, WOMEN LISTENING. Each of the twelve pieces were painted separately and assembled into this one piece.

SAMPLE WORKSHOP/ PROMPT: Inmates were asked to paint a self portrait and to write a brief description of the persona they painted. This exercise was followed with a request to paint a portrait of the offender's victim. This could be the actual victim or someone who was victimized by their crime. After the portrait was complete, the inmate was asked to write a letter to their victim. Finally, The Human Element Project took the two images and digitally composed them so that half of each portrait sits side-by-side. The objective is for the offender to see them self "face-to-face" with their victim and to discuss how it felt to participate in the workshop and ultimately see them self side by side with their victim.

Sample of 3 of the 12 individual pieces.

Victim/Offender Portrait Painting workshop

Dear M,
I noticed in your picture how anger and pain affected your life. Not to mention alcohol and drugs as well. See Martin, You and I are just alike -- believe it or not. I started drugging and drinking at age 9. Yes! My father was murdered at 25 years old. Young huh? I was there when that murder took place. It was then when I began to develop trust issues – while feeling hatred at the world. At the tender age of 10, my uncle introduced me to the drug game and guns, which ended up being damaging on my part. Martin, I see you are heading down the same exact path as myself, which is very dark and lonely. In your photo, you drew a picture of your mother, father, brother, sister and yourself. So, happiness is for sure in your future. My job is to encourage you to live better, be better and stay better. There are unforeseen abilities that you haven’t discovered just yet, but you will. The world is you inspiration Martin. Take advantage of it completely. I have been locked up since the age of 17 years old and now I am 34. WOW! Juvi, prison etc. isn’t a place for no one. Martin, I was young and impressionable…please don’t follow my way of living badly. Can you identify your own reflection? Or, is 17 all an identity crisis? Martin, understand that no matter what anyone does to you, education will always be the bed you can fall back on for safety reasons in any situation. No one can take that from you, no one!! Remember, even though you can’t see who I am, or have no idea what my name is, just know I am always here for you through these simple but powerful words. Because, without you, I wouldn’t be able to speak them into existence. So Martin, live meaningful and be bright.      

          -  From Cachardo, your friend. -

Women Speaking - Collaborative Muraling


"It was a different experience, explaining life and letting someone else finish it for you. It was also humbling letting someone decide or pick what your paths are based on past experience to help you get straight."

"It was cool. I have never thought about stuff like that before. It was different to think about my life and how I actually went through some things. I want to see what these other people think about me and my life..."

"It was a different experience putting my life on paper, I've never done anything like that. It was hard, but I am excited to get my letter."

Autobiography Book Covers Workshop