Teaching Inmates Patience

Catherine Talarico News

Sister Catherine Talarico at Humility of Mary Center, Davenport, IA.

I’ve been volunteering at Iowa Correctional Institution for Women, in Mitchellville, Iowa, since the early 1980’s. At first, I helped tutor women who were working for college credit arranged by Sr. Bernadine Pieper.

Next came a monthly spirituality and art class that Sr. Donna Schmitt and I created. Donna and I felt that helping the women enhance their spirituality by means of art would be very beneficial.

Over the years, we interacted with a large number of women who shared their reflections/prayers and art with each other. Time together enabled all of us to slow down, get in touch with God’s loving presence and forgiveness-recalling how that has played out in our lives and how we want it to continue. Creating an art piece enables the women to have a concrete reminder of their reflections.

For special occasions we were able to supply the women with materials to make cards for their loved ones. They were especially grateful.

After a number of years, I decided to take a new route and join my friend, Joan Broek, in a different endeavor. Joan had been teaching art at the prison for five years. She asked me to join her and I said, “yes. “ So for the last five years we have continued the weekly art class.

Initially, the class was one of teaching drawing using charcoal and pastels. This class is truly an exercise in patience: listening, quieting negative self-talk, seeing what is actually there, not “I think I know how it looks,” being open to constructive criticism, and much more.

Of late, we shifted from drawing using forms to creating art pieces using the imagination. The ladies told us that this creative exercise has taught them patience, created serenity and brought about a much needed quieting of thought and circumstances they can’t control. Art has the ability to bring a wholeness and holiness to the creator. It is humbling to be a part of that process.

We are not able to take a camera into the prison, so we can’t show you any of the pieces the ladies heave created, but I can show you one of mine (above) to give you the idea.