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'We're painting change.' Incarcerated women confront trauma through art

New treatment program is supporting women at the Barnstable County Correctional Facility.

BOURNE—Every morning, the 33 women held in this unit of the Barnstable County Correctional Facility break off into groups.

They discuss parenting, recovery, and even color schemes—painting the jail's first mural has been a significant part of the Women's Therapeutic Treatment Program, created in March.

The mural, known as Metamorphosis, is a bright pastel landscape blanketing one end of the group's cinderblock cell.

"We're painting change," said Jessica, a grandmother jailed on shoplifting charges. "We're painting growth, we're painting community."

The pilot project was formed by the sheriff's office and the Cultural Center of Cape Cod to artistically engage incarcerated women and help them manage trauma. It also offers a space to discuss experiences with sexual abuse and trafficking.

Because women are often the primary caregivers, their absence is especially tough for families, said Sheriff Donna Buckley. There are 49 children between these 33 inmates.

"Cutting back on recidivism for women who find themselves in the criminal justice system pays dividends that are incalculable," Buckley said. "It allows us to have stronger families and stronger children."

Tianna, a 24-year-old inmate, has been sketching portraits of her 7-year-old sister.

"I think we're painting a little bit of ourselves in the mural and leaving behind all the change and growth that we've learned here," Tianna said. "It gives you something brighter to look at, both figuratively and literally."

The program works with several local partners, including the Falmouth Public Library and Cape Cod Community College.

"I love the mural, but this is not the end," said Molly Demeulenaere, executive director of the Cultural Center of Cape Cod.

"For us it's really about the journey that the women are on. Leaving a legacy behind is an important part, because other women are coming in after who will have the opportunity to say, 'This too shall pass.'"

Patrick Flanary is a dad, journalist, and host of Morning Edition.