Students offer art therapy program to incarcerated juveniles

Two groups of students came together last semester to work on creating unique, purposeful art.

Students from Indiana University Kokomo and the Logansport Juvenile Correctional Facility worked together in a program designed to give art therapy experience to IUK students while helping the incarcerated students deal with emotional and behavioral issues.

The art they created can be seen at IUK’s new “Rise Above” exhibit, which opened to the public June 21.

Last year, professors from IUK were awarded money through the IU New Frontiers in the Arts and Humanities grant, allowing the university to create a program designed to help incarcerated youth work through addictions. With leftover money, the university was able to continue the program this year, but rather than simply working on art, the program this year focused on art therapy.

Brooke Komar, a visiting lecturer in psychology at IUK, is a trained art therapist who became involved with the program this year. She created a class at IUK, bringing students from education, psychology, fine arts and occupational therapy majors with her to the Logansport Juvenile Correctional Facility.

Through a 12-week program, the IUK students learned about art therapy while the Logansport students were given a creative outlet to work through the reasons they were incarcerated.

Komar stressed that art therapy is not just creating art; it’s purposefully geared toward helping clients work through emotional and behavioral issues.

“Art therapy is not arts and crafts,” she said. “It’s not art education and it’s not just social workers or therapists adding in a sort of fancy new tool to their clinical expertise.”

Instead, art therapists have training to be able to diagnose patients and help treat them using art.

Komar said both groups of students were apprehensive at the start of the program. The IUK students were worried about entering the correctional facility, and they were also worried they wouldn’t be able to help the students.

Stefanie Fuller, a junior studying psychology at IUK, said she was apprehensive when she started the program.

“It’s a correctional facility, all male,” she said. “It was nerve-wracking, and I had to use skills I’ve never used before.”

But as she worked through the program, her fears melted away.

“Each week when we went in, it lessened,” she said. “And I felt pretty confident. It really abolished my biases. They’re just kids.”

The Logansport students were initially unsure whether to trust the IUK students.

“There’s not a lot of people from the community who come in and interact with them,” Komar said. “And there’s a lot of shame they experience for their situation and the choices that they’ve made.”

The art created by the students on display in the IUK art gallery shows the transformation from the students being shy and unsure of their abilities to embracing the program as a group.

Some of the initial drawings are pushed to one side of the page or are very small and basic, Komar pointed out. But as the students continued through the program and worked on individual work and in groups, their self-confidence becomes more evident.

For one exercise, the students were told to trace their hands and write five positive traits they possessed that they could share with others. The students all drew their own hands on top of each other’s until each drawing had an outline of everyone’s hands.

In another project, the students were told to draw a body outline and write traits within the outline that help or hinder their recovery process.

Amanda Fry and Catherine Bauer, who both work at the Logansport Juvenile Correctional Facility, said they were impressed with the program.

“I think it’s incredible that they can take their thoughts and express them like this,” Bauer said.

“I was surprised by how positive a lot of it is,” Fry said.

Fry said since the program, most of the students who participated have been released from the facility.

“We’re proud of them,” Bauer said.

Lisa Regalla, an art teacher at the facility, said the IUK students had to be careful of what they brought into the facility and that the Logansport students couldn’t use anything that could be considered a gang symbol. Even for the program’s final piece, a piece of graffiti on thick, cardstock-like paper, used spray paint made out of a sugar material that did not have fumes that could allow someone to get high.

“But the students are so grateful to have the opportunity that they wouldn’t have broken the rules,” Regalla said. “They really appreciated this.”

Lori Harshbarger, superintendent of the Logansport facility, said she was glad to welcome the IUK students.

“Really any time we have a positive volunteer group that has a purpose, that helps (the students),” she said.

And she said she saw a big difference in the program since last year.

“Brooke really made a difference to the program,” she said. “She made it more complete.”