Community Involvement, Rehabilitation

Art murals liven up CMF visiting room

Man in blue shirt stands in front of nature mural at prison.
Marion Meux, an inmate at CMF, helped paint murals at the facility.

Soroptimist International of Vacaville raised funds for supplies

The visiting room at California Medical Facility (CMF) has been transformed into a vivid depiction of California landmarks using murals, thanks to the Solano community and a team of talented inmates.

“It is extremely beneficial for visiting,” said Community Resource Manager Landon Bravo, project organizer. “One of the basic concepts when we started was to transform the visiting room from sterile white walls and vending machines to someplace you could go inside and forget you’re actually in a prison setting.”

Mission accomplished. The visiting room is now awash in color, every inch of the wall painted to portray California scenery. A walk around the room reveals Monterey Bay, Yosemite, Napa and the Sierra Nevada. The large-scale project took months to complete. The man who oversaw the project is extremely proud of the work he and his fellow artists accomplished.

“I had never done anything on this scale before,” said Marion Meux, who has been incarcerated for 30 years. “I jumped at the chance – it was an opportunity.”

It was also an opportunity for community partnership. The prison’s Citizens Advisory Committee was looking for a fundraiser, and the beautification project fit the bill.

The nonprofit Soroptimist International of Vacaville assisted by raising funds to purchase all of the art supplies. It was then Bravo’s job to find the right artists for the job. As he began asking around the prison, Meux’s name kept coming up.

New to Arts-in-Corrections program

Meux had never attempted to paint before coming to prison. He was inspired by fellow inmate artists’ work, and encouraged by correctional officers to participate in Arts-in-Corrections programs. He started painting at San Quentin State Prison in the 1990s, and has been painting every day since.

“I had never done anything on this scale before,” said Marion Meux, who has been incarcerated for 30 years. “I jumped at the chance – it was an opportunity.”

It was also an opportunity for community partnership

“It’s an extremely therapeutic endeavor for me,” Meux said. “It allows me to explore my inner self, my inner soul.”

Under Bravo’s guidance, Meux assembled a team of racially and artistically diverse men to assist in the project. Everybody on the team has since paroled, with the exception of Meux, but their legacy will remain on the walls of the visiting room.

For Meux, the project is about more than paint and brushes. Taking their task seriously, the artists meticulously researched California’s history and geography to ensure each detail is accurate.

In the smaller children’s area, the walls are covered in an animal-themed mural. The inmate artists carefully researched so animals that would not normally exist together are nowhere near one another. As a bonus, the children’s mural is covered with a protective coating. This makes it easy to wipe up a spill or hand-print. At night, the jellyfish in the underwater section of the mural glow.

Unconventional canvas for inmate artists

A room inside a prison is not your typical canvas. There are bars on the windows and fire extinguishers on the walls, for example.

“Those are opportunities,” Meux smiled. “That’s the way you have to look at it.”

The painting continues onto light switches and window bars, seamlessly incorporating the “obstacles” so one hardly notices they are there. The ability to work through such challenges has become second nature to Meux. He often incorporates found objects and nontraditional materials into his artwork, the result of limited resources combined with creativity.

“I make it do what I want it to do,” Meux said of his works. “I’ll use Kool-Aid. I’ll use mustard to mix paint. There’s a painting in there that was done with coffee.”

Bravo said having such a warm environment is important. He said it’s not only for the families visiting to feel at ease, but also for the inmates to ease them out of the prison environment as they prepare to one day return home.

“When the inmates come inside this kind of environment for their visits, it’s a comforting feeling to them,” he observed.

Prison hospice is first in state

The inmate artists didn’t stop at the visiting room. The facility is home to the state’s first prison hospice, and one of the men painting the visiting room was also an inmate hospice volunteer.

He suggested painting the outdoor hospice area would be beneficial to the patients, who are unable to spend their yard time on the general population recreation yard. They also receive their visits in the hospice, and this would provide a decorated space for their visits. Today, the hospice patio is just as colorful as the visiting room, featuring a seaside-themed mural complete with a lighthouse, the ocean and a boat sailing into the distance.

“It gives a uniqueness to the hospice,” Bravo commented. “When you go inside, it’s a hospital setting, and then when you come outside, you can actually relax. You’ve got fresh air, a nice beautiful mural, and it really just bridges the gap between the community’s involvement and the inmate-patient care that we provide at CMF.”

Art doesn’t stop after project

While the mural project may be completed, art will never stop for Meux. His paintings are displayed throughout CMF and other prisons, including two portraits he has painted for wardens.

Another room at CMF is covered with portraits of legendary jazz artists and political figures, as well as a touching portrait he created in honor of his wife.

Meux is also a teacher, making himself available to fellow inmates interested in learning how to paint. He said he gains the most from sharing his skills, both in terms of helping others and in honing his own craft.

“(Painting is) fun, it’s enjoyable,” he said. “You’re in prison. You have to be very mindful of your surroundings at all times. Here is something that you can do where you can relax. I can see what’s really going on underneath.”

Watch the original video story on YouTube (may not play on a CDCR computer, link opens new tab).

Story by Krissi Khokhobashvili, CDCR Public Information Officer
Video by Jeff Baur, Television Specialist
Office of Public and Employee Communications

Read about other inmate artists in rehabilitation stories (link opens new tab).