Can You Draw In Prison?

By Prison Insight Staff

Updated: May 7, 2019

When you are locked up, one of the biggest challenges is figuring out ways to pass the time. While many inmates park themselves in front of a television (screens can be in the day room, the indoor rec area, or you can buy your own small TV for your bunk) or spend time at the rec yard, others look for creative outlets to help them get through each day.

However, with all of the limits and restrictions put on inmates, many people want to know – can you draw in prison?

In this blog post, I will cover the following topics:

  • Art Supplies You Can Buy In Prison
  • Art Programs in Prison

Art Supplies You Can Buy In Prison

With thousands of prisons and jails across the United States, it’s nearly impossible to make general statements about what an inmate can and can’t do when they are incarcerated. Every prison has different items available for sale at the commissary, and each have different rules when it comes to what inmates can order through a catalog.

And, depending on the inmate’s custody level, there are different restrictions when it comes to what is allowed in a prisoner’s cell.

However, most inmates do have access to pencils, pens, and paper. At some facilities, a pencil and a few pieces of paper are issued to an inmate when they arrive in prison. So, as a rule, the vast majority of inmates can draw in prison if they choose to do so.

Most prison commissaries do sell pencils, pens, and paper, and they are usually some of the most inexpensive items available. And, many facilities allow their inmates to order items from catalogs – things like colored pencils, paint and brushes, and sketch books.

If a prisoner is a talented artist, they can make that their “hustle” while incarcerated. If an inmate doesn’t receive any money from friends or family, that means they are living on as little as five dollars per month. To make extra cash, many inmates have a hustle, or a way to make extra money on the side.

Some inmates will draw on envelopes and sell them to others who need them for holidays and birthdays. Others can draw incredible artwork on a piece of notebook paper or on a sketch pad, and they sell those items to people who send them home as gifts.

An inmate can commission artwork from an artist that is locked up with them, and they can buy beautiful portraits of loved ones or a drawing for a future tattoo.

There are also inmates who choose to draw as a method of rehabilitation, and use it as a means to express their mood and feelings. They often keep this artwork to themselves.

It should be noted that some prisons require an inmate to be free of conduct violations if they wish to buy art supplies and have them in their cell. And, if someone gets caught buying or selling artwork, it can get them in trouble. However, this is extremely rare.

Art Programs in Prison

Because arts and crafts have been proven to be a great activity for rehabilitation and self-examination, most federal and state prisons have some kind of art program that an inmate can get involved in.

While it can be limited to drawing with pens, pencils, and paper, some programs take it further and use things like charcoal, paint, oils, and crayons. Some prisons also allow inmates to participate in arts and crafts when their children come for a visit to make them more comfortable with the experience.

In addition to drawing and painting projects, many prisons offer hobbycraft classes like art, plastic canvas, origami, ceramics, leatherwork, models, clay, mosaics, sculptures, and woodworking. Some facilities have fully-stocked art studios where inmates can make everything from a small painting to ceramic pottery.

In art classes, prisoners often create pieces to send to family and friends. Or, if they don’t have previous experience with creating art, they can learn skills to help them find a creative outlet when they are released.

Drawing while in prison can be a great source of therapy and rehabilitation for inmates. Often times, prisoners focus on the subject of time for their art pieces because it is such a frequent topic of thought and conversation.

Are you surprised that inmates use art as a means to make money while incarcerated? Let us know in the comments below.



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