When she closes her eyes, Angel LeVasseur can recount details from one of the last moments she spent with her two kids in December 2018 — the days before she was sentenced to serve time at the Newport News City Jail.
“We live out in the country so we have a lot of trees and a lot of open areas and it was a good time to go outside with the kids and play in the snow,” she said.
A Virginia Commonwealth University alumna who majored in accounting and minored in painting, LeVasseur said she’s more of a landscape artist and was able to use only permitted supplies, like a jail-safe pen, to recreate a joyous time she once had with her kids in a scene she calls “Playtime in the Winter.”
“Most of the trees are drawn with ink….here we don’t have paint so I took a cloth and rubbed deodorant on that and rubbed the color from a newspaper,” she said.
LeVasseur is one of more than five inmates confined at the Newport News City Jail whose artwork are displayed in the Beyond the Block exhibition featured at the Chrysler Museum of Art, Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art, Peninsula Fine Arts Center.
Beyond the Block is in its third year but this is the first year the exhibit has also included works from inmates on the Peninsula — an accomplishment Lt. Kandyce Patrick-Gross, community relations officer for the Newport News Sheriff Office, said acknowledges other inmates in the region as “people, too.”
“This project shows that people are more than you think they are and the public perception of someone who is being held or who is labeled as ‘inmate’ or ‘offender,’” Patrick-Gross said. “That’s not who they are but part of what has happened in their life…they have so much more to offer if they have appropriate outlets for it.”
More than being able to preserve a happy moment in time with her children, LeVasseur, an artist whose work is showcased at the Chrysler Museum of Art through Feb. 9, said participating in the program helps her feel connected to her family and the public in the outside world during this obstacle in her life.
“It’s kind of a way in here to almost feel human,” she said. “To do something and have it displayed for people to see that most of us are still everyday people who just did something that we shouldn’t have…it’s an outlet to get our feelings out and to just do something normal.”
Beyond the Block is an exhibition of art created by inmates and former inmates at the Virginia Beach and Chesapeake Correctional Centers, Norfolk City, Hampton Roads Regional, Hampton City, and Newport News City jails.
The exhibit is scheduled to run until Jan. 5 at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center, Jan. 26 at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art, and Feb. 9 at the Chrysler Museum of Art.