Chained Voices

Chained Voices

Chained Voices

  • On August 23, 2021

by Vickie Stevinson

I’ve often thought that art-making was a safe, healing place to go whenever life was overwhelming.  It’s always given me a space that was absent of responsibility and where I felt free to think and do in my own voice. I was excited to stumble across the University of Denver’s Prison Arts Initiative (DU PAI) a relatively new program that I first heard about last fall that generates creative and collaborative learning experiences that enrich the lives of people who are incarcerated in Colorado’s prisons.

DU PAI presented Chained Voices on August 20th with more than 75 works of art by both men and women from many of the 23 (20 state and 3 for-profit) prisons in Colorado. Most of the work was figurative and included images of recognizable public figures as well as inmate self-portraits. The self-portraits were done as part of the programming that DU PAI does ‘behind the walls’ and represented many artists that were just learning to draw to a few artists that were truly amazing both technically and conceptually.

The art opening included a panel discussion, more lecture than discussion, from DU professors, DU PAI team members, the Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Corrections as well as previously incarcerated inmates that illustrated the special magic that happens with art. It empowers individuals involved within the prisons and spills out into the community at large.

Jerry Martinez, an inmate recently out of prison, was painting within the gallery throughout the evening.  He is self-taught and his portrait work was drafting perfection. Talking with him reminded me of the many struggles an artist has when producing their work… finding space to work in, money for materials, and making a living at what you’re passionate about. Struggles were amplified for him because he was living in someone’s dining room, didn’t have any supplies, and had no idea how the digital world worked.

DU PAI asked all that were in attendance to stay involved, spread the word about their program and the creative change it can create among individuals who often find themselves feeling hopeless in a society that doesn’t want to recognize them or their humanity.


The University of Denver’s Prison Arts Initiative (DU PAI) presented Chained Voices an exhibit featuring the fine art of artists incarcerated by the Colorado Department of Corrections. The opening included a panel discussion with moderator Dr. Shannon Silva (DU’s Graduate School of Social Work); John Sherman (previously incarcerated artist); Dean Williams (Executive Director, Colorado Department of Corrections); Kyle Varvil (Forensic Social Worker, Chained Voices team member) and Hassan Latif (previously incarcerated, Executive Director, Second Chance Center).