Sunday, September 20, 2015

Editorial: Painting a better future

from the Topeka Capital-Journal
September 20, 2015

Topeka has a fair amount of murals, some planned and authorized and some that seemingly pop up overnight, the work of spray-paint artists. The community has a new mural of the authorized variety, one many residents won’t get to see except in pictures. It is worth noting here though, not so much for the painting itself, which is beautiful, but because of how it came about and what it means to those who created it.

Shawnee County’s Department of Corrections unveiled the mural and a garden at its Juvenile Detention Center on Wednesday. Corrections director Brian Cole said studies have shown gardening and arts programs to be positive experiences in helping troubled youth with self-esteem, teamwork, problem solving and communication skills. Cole said he had been aware for some time of similar projects but wanted to research the subject before embarking on one. He and his team are to be commended for their willingness to go beyond incarceration with the bare necessities and find ways to ensure the troubled youth in their temporary care leave the detention center with skills and knowledge they didn’t possess upon entering.

If they are successful with just a few youngsters (although we’re sure the have a higher goal), they will provide a valuable service to the community. Many people who slide into a life of mischief, crime and incarceration begin that journey as juveniles. Efforts to change a person’s behavior at that gateway can be beneficial to the youths involved and society.

The mural was designed by artist Dave Loewenstein, of Lawrence, who has worked on the Great Mural Wall of Topeka at 20th and S.W. Western, and four young people at the detention center. Loewenstein projected the design, which incorporates birds and flowers, on the building’s walls and his young accomplices began painting in May. The finished product, “The Caged Bird Sings, I am More That Just a Weed,” spans two walls.

About 30 juveniles began work in the spring on a nearby garden, in which they raise tomatoes, kale and cabbage. Staff members built the plant beds and Washburn Tech donated some plants. Cole said the work instilled a sense of pride in the participating youngsters, who built a beautiful place that can be utilized. Topekans should take some sense of pride in a juvenile center where the staff cares enough to go beyond simple incarceration.

Members of The Capital-Journal Editorial Advisory Board are Gregg Ireland, Mike Hall, Fred Johnson, Ray Beers Jr., Garry Cushinberry, John Stauffer, Frank Ybarra, Jessica Hosman and Laura Burton.

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