Inmate Masters Art Skills While Behind Bars

Inmate Masters Art Skills While Behind Bars

While time in jail or prison turns violent or aimless for some inmates with too much time on their hands, sometimes the time spent behind bars allows inmates to improve their education and showcase their skills and talents.  Phillip Barber is an inmate in Montague County Jail who spends much of his time creating art, such as detailed clay sculptures of cowboys.
    We first ran into Phillip Barber in late July when he was booked into jail after trying to flee a warrants stop.
    Montague County Sheriff Paul Cunningham says, "The City of Bowie Police Department tried to pull him over at which time he actually ran in his vehicle."
    Barber eventually ditched his vehicle and took off running.
    Barber eluded officers for about five hours but was finally tracked down by men on horseback using scent dogs.
    We spoke with him as he was taking another familiar walk into jail.
    "Well, I was just gonna go back to jail again," Barber said.
    "But now you have added charges!"
    "Oh, well," Barber said.
    "Do you regret running away from the police?"
    "Yes, I do. Very much," he said.  "I would have regretted going back to prison!"
    But now, we're seeing him in a different light; as an artist.
    "One of the jailers contacted me and he said he had something he wanted to show me.  Of course I went back into the jail to see what it was and he had a soap cowboy he had sculpted," Cunningham says.
    "I would crush a bar of soap up, add a little water, and make it a paste.  Then I would sculpt whatever I could," Barber says.
    He also makes life-like sculptures of people he meets, like wardens and sheriffs.
    "It's a big release, especially in an environment like this," he says.  "I can spend hours working with this clay and escape.  You know?"
    Besides being successful in his art, he's also successful in his studies.
    In 1989, Barber was the first inmate to earn a master's degree from the University of Houston-Clear Lake's Texas Department of Corrections Program.
    "The day I graduated with my family there, my mom, dad, sister, aunts, I was so proud," he says.  "I had big hopes."
    Barber says he hopes to turn his life around once he finally gets out of jail.
    He says he'd love to eventually make sculpture mold castings so he can produce multiple sculptures and profit from his craft.
    Barber says he got left behind in technological revolution while in prison, and would take any job he could get, then time after time, he would end up back behind bars.
    He says the key to staying out will be avoiding the temptations of alcohol and drugs so he can try and put his artistic talents to use outside of the bars.
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