EAST MADISON — Murals depicting Somerset County towns were painted on the walls of the county jail in recent months as a way for inmates to find some satisfaction during their time behind bars.
One of the jail artists, Sydney Duff, 21, a federal prisoner awaiting sentencing for twice robbing the Rite Aid pharmacy in Newport with her boyfriend last year, told jail officials that she would like to have copies of her finished artwork .
Jail Compliance Officer Sean Maguire copied 18 of the images painted by Duff and made them into 4-by-6-inch pictures for her photo album before she went to a federal prison on a three-to-five-year sentence.
Maguire said he liked what he saw in those pictures.
“I said wait a minute — these things look like postcards; they really do,” said Maguire, 55. “There were about the same size as a postcard. It looked like a postcard, and I printed some out on card stock, and it actually looked really nice.”
What came next was the idea to establish a prison industry through the state Bureau of Labor to make postcards and sell them.
Maguire said like other correctional facilities in Maine, including Two Rivers Regional Jail in Wiscassett, Somerset runs other inmate work programs, including raising pigs and a large vegetable garden for food.
The new postcard program work would be done by two or three jail inmates. The proceeds would be used to offset those inmates’ housing and food costs, with the rest going into an inmate benefit fund to help prisoners pay for telephone calls and buy items from the jail commissary. Maguire said $22 will be taken from sales to offset daily housing costs of participating inamtes and the rest will go into the inmate’s benefit fund.
All the work would be done at the jail, Maguire said, and would not compete financially with any local business already making or selling postcards.
The images are from the county’s 2010 bicentennial quilt, which hangs in the hallway of the county courthouse in downtown Skowhegan.
Maguire said a county employee emailed him digital photos of each of the quilt panels, and he used a computer and an overhead projector to make a line drawing of each panel. He then projected the images on the wall where the picture was outlined by hand with pencil. The jail inmates then used paint to fill in the picture using a color photocopy of the quilt panel as a guide. Each 2-by-2-foot mural takes a week or two to complete, he said.
There are 28 murals in all — 28 different postcards — showing a big red barn in Smithfield, the Embden Town House, churches in Bingham and West Forks, the Madison Town Office, Skowhegan: “A place to watch,” and others.
Other murals were done in a similar fashion with inspirational windows on the wall in the jail’s chapel and in the visiting room where seasonal images of a mountain in Maine are depicted.
Leo Coutu, 28, of Augusta, who is serving nine months at the Somerset County Jail for violating his probation on an aggravated assault conviction, is painting the image of the Lawrence Public Library in Fairfield.
“I’m a tattoo artist, so it’s a good way to spend my time. It’s productive, instead of just sitting in there doing nothing,” Coutu said, paintbrush in hand. “I think the postcard idea is a great way to make money and spread the artistic abilities of the county jail. Yeah, we’re in here, but we also are more than just inmates. We’re actual people; we do have skills and talents that can be used.”
The first hurdle in the jailhouse industry idea was cleared Wednesday when Somerset County commissioners voted unanimously to allow the manufacture and sale of postcards.
Commissioner Lynda Quinn, of Skowhegan, the board chairwoman, said at a previous meeting that the county owns the quilt images because they were donated during the bicentennial ceremonies three years ago, making it legal to use them in the postcards project.
The next step, Maguire said, is to provide advertising packets of postcards to interest county towns in purchasing them and to buy a printer for about $800 from federal Corrections Corporation of America grant money. The money would be paid back into the fund through future sales of postcards at about 50 cents per card, without postage, Maguire said.
He said the jail also will attempt direct sales to the public through the county website and selling the postcard wholesale to other county businesses.
At the Two Bridges Regional Jail industries program, inmates’ time and creative talents produce small items for sale starting at $5 and up, according to the jail website.
Birdhouses, whirligigs, cutting boards, planters, jigsaw puzzles, jewelry boxes, novelty mirrors, Adirondack chairs, ammunitions boxes, cradles and other items are for sale in the jail lobby. It is a self-sustaining program with profits used to buy more materials and to support community service programs, according to the website.
Inmates are paid a small wage for their work, with a percentage going toward fines, restitution and room and board.
The Penobscot County Jail also has an inmate industries program, in which signs are made for the state Department of Transportation, Maguire said.
The Maine Department of Corrections operates inmate industries programs at five of the state’s facilities for adults.
The Maine Correctional Center in South Windham employs about 50 inmates, both men and women, in its industries program, according to the Department of Corrections website.
The goal of the programs in the prison’s woodshop, garment making, re-upholstery, embroidery, license plates, wood harvesting, upholstery, and engraving activities is to provide products to the public and other agencies while keeping as many prisoners busy as possible, according to the website.