"The entire class put their heads together, started brainstorming and came up with some fantastic ideas."
URBANA — Jacqueline Archey finds the artwork done by Champaign County jail inmates inspiring.
The Parkland College adult education instructor recently taught GED classes — with a new twist — to inmates at the Champaign County Satellite Jail in Urbana.
The class was for three weeks, four days a week, at the jail. What made the coursework unique, Archey said, was that her students focused on Black History Month.
"We were asked to think about and possibly work on a project reflecting black art," she said. "The entire class put their heads together, started brainstorming and came up with some fantastic ideas."
Archey said some of her students, all male, shone in their poetry and drawings, many of them about revered figures in the Civil Rights movement.
"We began collecting magazines, newspapers, books and any other resources we could find," she said. "Students also put their creative talent to work."
The inmates could not be quoted for this story, and the photographs of their work only show them from the back.
But Archey said she was amazed by their artwork, which was displayed in the lobby of the county jail for visitors to see (and, in one case, even inquire about purchasing).
Among the African-American icons students drew: Martin Luther King, President Obama, Nelson Mandela, Oprah Winfrey, Mahalia Jackson and Malcolm X.
"In the arts field, you find a lot of the inmates have useful skills," she said.
Other skills the GED students learned were more mundane, but necessary in a tech-based economy. For some, it was the first experience with a computer and performing basic functions such as clicking, scrolling and typing.
"The feedback from the class was very fulfilling," Archey said. "We'll absolutely do it again."