Avenal prison visiting gets kid‑friendly facelift

After a 2013 visit with his sisters and 5-year-old niece, Avenal State Prison incarcerated artist Eric Bergen set out to update the Facility B children’s visiting area.

Two years later, Bergen met Joseph Frye as both worked on a mural project. They said this effort gave them an opportunity to assess one another’s artistic talents. A year later, the Artistic Rehabilitation Therapy (ART) program, a self-help group, was established, encouraging incarcerated artists to participate in art-related pro-social activities.

In March 2020, when the pandemic caused the suspension of in-person visiting, Bergen again asked staff about updating the kids’ area in the Facility B Visiting Room. Staff agreed and the project finally moved forward.

After months of work, the visiting area now boasts superheroes and Disney film characters. Incarcerated artists described the mural project as a labor of love.

For one artist, the project was also a way to leave something behind. Frye, who recently paroled, sees it as a parting gift to other families.

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By Lt. J. Campbell

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