Artistic expressions from behind bars

Elaine Voigt's home is littered with one-of-a-kinds. Wooden boxes and wallets, jewelry and paintings, all of them handmade and all of them unique. She knows they are authentic because she knows where they were made - behind bars.

For the last four years Voigt has dedicated her free time to helping families cope with having loved ones locked up, and helping inmates acclimate to life away from incarceration.

The nonprofit organization My Loving Journey includes six support groups with a variety of goals related to serving time in prison, its effects on prisoners and their families.

The organization is receiving support from the people they are trying to help, those serving time.

Two months ago the hobbycrafts programs at the Nevada State Prison and the Northern Nevada Correctional Center were shut down by Warden Bill Donat who cited security and safety concerns. Voigt collected the leftover creations and will be selling them at the Cal Avenue Street Fair this Saturday in Reno.

"The inmate who made it gets 70 percent back, and then 30 percent goes to us as a fundraiser," she said. "The inmates tell us how much it cost to make and what it's worth and that's what we sell it for."

The inmates use the money for phone cards, personal hygiene items or to help support their families.

"A collect phone call from the prisons in Carson City to Reno is $18 for 15 minutes," Voigt said. "They buy phone cards to make those calls."

My Loving Journey uses the money raised to support ex-felons integrating back into society. They provide things like rental and utility deposits or Christmas presents for families.

The crafts available include several handmade boxes using wood recovered from the water tower built in 1864, that was torn down in 2004.

"They don't have electric tools so all of these things are hand-tooled, even the hinges," Voigt said. "They are all different and unique. There isn't going to be anything else from the water tower."

The hope is to one day allow the inmates to make the crafts and provide them a store for sale. Voigt said allowing inmates to make and sell the hobbycrafts accomplishes more than monetary compensation.

"Idle hands are the devil's workshop. This helps their self-esteem and keeps them busy," Voigt said. "We need to be keeping some of those feelings up so they can survive back in society."

• Contact reporter Jarid Shipley at or 881-1217.

If you go

What: Prison hobbycrafts at the Cal Avenue Street Fair

When: 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday.

Where: On Hill Street between California Avenue and Liberty Street in Reno

Call: 772-4641 for information on the crafts available


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment