Sawtooth to feature exhibit of work by ex-offenders

Sawtooth to feature exhibit of work by ex-offenders
January 15
00:00 2015
(pictured above:  Earl Dominie with the drawing he had tattooed to his arm.)

“Release: From Stigma to Acceptance,” an exhibit that showcases the talents and struggles of ex-offenders reintegrating into society, will open this weekend at the Sawtooth School for Visual Art.

The exhibit is comprised of art, prose and poetry by ex-offenders of Project Re-Entry, which offers pre- and post-release services to ex-offenders. Wake Forest University’s Humanities Institute and Department of History are exhibit partners. Students in the Public History course are curating the exhibit and conducted audio interviews with some Project Re-Entry graduates that have also been integrated into the showcase.

Two pieces by Ron Hartzler, 64, will be featured – a poem he wrote for his daughter and a short story about his 42-year addiction to drugs.



“Whenever I had a story to tell, I would tell it, and because of my past, a lot of my stories are sort of based on the life style I had,” said Hartzler, who credits Project Re-Entry with freeing him from addiction.

The criminal justice program operates under the auspices of the Piedmont Triad Regional Council of Governments in partnership with Goodwill Industries of Northwest North Carolina. It provides classes – on everything from available community resources to job training – for inmates up to 16 weeks before they are slated to be released. Those who graduate from Project Re-entry receive post-release services assistance with things like finding student grants for college and transitional housing.

Hartzler, who completed his last stint behind bars five years ago, got the writing bug seven years ago, churning out 42 pieces since. He wrote two novels by hand while incarcerated. The grandfather and Goodwill Inc. co-logistics coordinator said he doesn’t write for acclaim but because he has something to say.

Pen and colored pencil drawings by Earl Dominie are featured, including his drawing of a stylized skull. Dominie had the image tattooed on his arm while in prison. A self-taught artist, Dominie said that drawing helped pass the time during his various stints in prison. Never did he expect that his art would be featured in an exhibit.

Examples of Dominie's work.

Examples of Dominie’s work.

DSC_0014“I never thought my artwork would amount to anything,” said Dominie, who was also interviewed by students. “My family loves the stuff I do for them, that’s just about all I’ve really considered. I never thought it would be on display. It’s kind of exciting.”

An opening reception for the showcase will be held Saturday, Jan. 17 from 1-3 p.m. at Sawtooth,  251 N. Spruce St. It will include refreshments, a forum with the WFU student participants and live music by Homemade Jam, a band led by Stephen McBride, who completed a two-year stint in prison in February 2014.

Though McBride and his band play regularly at bars, clubs and parties, finding steady employment has been an obstacle since his release. He said employers don’t want to give those with criminal records a chance.



Saturday, he’ll perform songs he wrote while in prison, including “These Four Walls,” co-written with Eric Parnell, a fellow ex-offender whose interview exerpts will be included in the exhibit.

“I’ve really wrote some good stuff since being in prison,” said McBride. “I guess all the emotions and all the stuff goes to being in prison translates well into music.”

Wake Forest University Assistant Professor Lisa Blee said she conceived of the project after hearing Michelle Alexander, an associate professor of law at Ohio State University, speak at Wake in 2013 about her acclaimed book “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.” Blee said the interviews her students conducted brought the issue home more than scholarly research did.

Wake Forest student Mallory Allred said she was surprised how much she and her classmates had in common with their interview subjects and came to realize how easy it is to end up on the wrong end of the law.

The reception and exhibit are free to the public. “Release” will be on display at Sawtooth through Saturday, Feb. 28. Then it will be displayed at Wake Forest University until May, when it will go to the Project Re-entry office at Goodwill Industries’ University Parkway location.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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