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Artwork by Montford Unit inmates sheds light on mental health

Lubbock Avalanche-Journal - 8/31/2017

Aug. 31--Drawings created by individuals from the John T. Montford Unit near Lubbock were debuted Wednesday afternoon in an exhibit at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center.

The art will be on display Friday at the Louise Hopkins Underwood Center for the Arts and later next month at the Panhandle South Plains Fair.

The artwork was created through an ancillary activity program administered by officials with HSC, said Dr. Denise Bartley, director of psychology for HSC Correctional Managed Healthcare.

Dr. Tedd Mitchell, president of HSC, said it's one of several services offered through HSC to individuals at the Montford Unit.

"One of the things this community is unaware of is the work that we do with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in general," Mitchell said. "I think most people understand the (Montford) unit is there and the hospital is there, but I don't think they understand the size and scope of it and relationship we have with it."

HSC provides medical services and mental health services at the unit, he said.

Some of those services include psychotherapy and ancillary activities, like art, said Rebecca Ramirez, associate managing director for HSC Correctional Managed Healthcare.

The artwork on display Wednesday was created by about 40 different patients, she said. It was all voluntary.

"These are just patients that happen to be incarcerated," Mitchell said. "There's a significant percentage of folks that wind up in the criminal justice system, much higher than the population, that have serious mental illness."

Dr. Cynthia Jumper, vice president for Special Health Programs for HSC, said the display highlights more than just artistic talents. It highlights mental health issues.

About 4 percent of people have a mental health illness, she said.

If you look within the prison system, she said, 12 to 18 percent of men have a serious mental illness and 40 percent of women have one.

"All of a sudden that's not so easy to take care of," she said.

Art therapy can help by providing an outlet for expression and coping skills, she said.

While the art project wasn't intended to be a form of therapy, several individuals found it to be so, Bartley said.

As a result, supervisors saw reductions in seclusion, restraints and overall types of crisis behaviors, added Ramirez.

Each piece in the display at HSC was accompanied by a paper with the age and mental health disorder of the person who created it.

The pieces ranged from simple, colorful drawings of rainbows and animals to detailed drawings of faces and symbols -- some with messages -- drawn by people ranging from 23 to 68 years old. A few of the more than 50 pieces on display included: a picture of Selena drawn by a 24-year-old with borderline personality disorder; a picture of an hourglass with a clock, rose and diamond with the words "If I could turn back the hands of time" on a ribbon drawn by a 32-year-old dealing with bereavement; and a picture with several different faces and objects drawn by an 31-year-old individual with bipolar disorder.

"There is some incredible artwork here," Mitchell said.

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(c)2017 the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal (Lubbock, Texas)

Visit the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal (Lubbock, Texas) at www.lubbockonline.com

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