Porter County Sheriff's Department

What's Happening at The Porter County Sheriff's Department


Jail Inmate Artwork

With time, toilet paper, prisoners create folk art
May 11, 2009

By James D. Wolf Jr. Post-Tribune correspondent


Sheriff David Lain likes to hand people the softball-sized model of a skull wearing a cowboy hat, and ask people what they think it's made of.  About half guess it's made of toilet paper, he says.  He usually has to quickly tell them then that the brown tint came from coffee.  The red in the eye sockets might be ink from a pen, although he doesn't know where the orange there came from. The eyeballs were carefully torn from magazines.  Lain also has another such skull in his office, this one pure white. He also has a bouquet of intricate toilet paper roses, a toilet paper model of a horseman being hung from a tree, plus numerous crosses on chains, elaborately woven from threads from bedding and prison uniforms.  It's all contraband confiscated from prisoners since the Porter County Jail opened almost seven years ago.  Lain can appreciate the talents of prisoners who use whatever is on hand to make art, but there is a down side to their handiwork.  The problem is prisoners use their rationed toilet paper or destroy jail property for material.  "It harms the issued equipment. It shortens the life span. That's why when something like this is found, we can appreciate the talent, but we have to discourage it," Lain said.  It's a consequence of having a lot of time, said Warden Joe Widup, who's run the prison for the last 10 years.  The inmates get up at 6 a.m. and go to bed at 10 p.m. Those who don't take Bible study or classes in anger management or chemical abuse, or study for their GED, have a lot of free time.  "The busier we can keep them, the better not only for us but for them," Lain said.  There have been craft classes and there's a lending library, but any movement of prisoners uses limited staff time.  Not all the projects have been discouraged, however.  Lain's collection includes a series of PCJ Daily newspapers written with blue pen on single sheets of notebook paper, a few times on toilet paper and eventually on a 3x5 inch notecard that proclaimed "paper shortage ends production of Daily."  The headline of one of the toilet paper issues stated, ironically, "toilet paper in short supply."  The newspaper was created by prisoner Mike Kaufman during his 2004 stay, usually using his own materials.  "We found it a little humorous, so we let him go one with it and gave it to the sheriff (Dave Reynolds)," Widup said.  The issues, handwritten with drawings and sometimes crosswords, circulated around Kaufman's cell block and addressed whatever was on his mind – diet, staff, a "neighborhood watch" for police or "Olympic garbage can sliding trials banned at PCJ."  Some also insult staff in crude terms.  "If the guy's doing it just for his own entertainment, that's one thing. When the guy's being disrespectful towards staff, we have to draw the line," Lain said.  They've seen fewer of these projects over the years, Lain said.  Widup said there's also much less graffiti than at the previous jail. Those who break the rule can face sanctions, from a 23-hour confinement to their cell to solitary confinement.  Three violations in 30 days could end up before a hearing officer and lead to the loss of "good time" behavior credits.

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