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Video: Exhibit in St. Paul displays art by inmates from Stillwater Correctional Facility

Nov 07, 2020 06:13AM ● By Editor

Watch the KSTP-TV Report here

Photo: KSTP-TV

By Rich Reeve of KSTP-TV Eyewitness News - November 6, 2020

At the Creators Space art facility in St. Paul, there’s an exhibit perhaps unlike any other.

"My wish is for these men to know that they are special,” declared Antonio Espinosa, the founder of an effort called 'Art From the Inside.'

"I get to see a really intimate view of the power of the creative spirit,” Melissa Dessart, the co-founder of Creators Space, added.

The showing is simply entitled 'Numbers.' The name comes from the offender identification numbers given to the incarcerated. Each one of the 64 pieces on display was created by men at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Stillwater.

"This is something that's inside that person,” Espinosa said. “These men have skills that arguably didn't know they have these talents."

For Espinosa, a corrections officer for 19 years, this is part of a journey that began in tragedy — the death of his friend, Joseph Gomm.

"It was just sad to know how he passed away,” he recalled. “How his life was taken, it was horrible."

In July 2018, Gomm, a fellow correctional officer, was beaten to death by an inmate. The prison was put on lockdown and inmates were confined to their cells.

"There was more division, more hatred,” Espinosa remembered. “Opportunity was taken away from the incarcerated."

As a man of faith, he felt he had to do something.

"I was trying to figure out what I could do to uplift the place,” Espinosa said. “Uplift my officers, uplift inmates. Try to bring about new culture." 

The effort began slowly, with art classes inside the prison. Then came the pandemic. This past July, Espinosa visited Creators Space to explore some options.

“He said, 'Melissa, I've started to assemble the artwork and I need a place to showcase it,'” Dessart said.

That meeting led to an exhibition that includes a portrait of George Floyd, mountain landscapes, brightly illuminated images and tender sketches. The wide variety of work ranges from a stark self-portrait of an inmate in his cell, to a life-like image of a woman’s face, framed by butterflies.

"There's beauty in everything, I guess,” exclaimed visitor Derek Baker. “And even people who've done horrible things, they have a beautiful side.”

“To see this much talent in this much spirit and this much beauty, all coming from one prison, is extraordinary,” Dessart added.

Some of the pieces are for sale; others are for viewing only. The exhibit will run through late November. Espinosa said he hopes to influence other incarcerated people to do better.

"I’m looking for transformation. I’m looking for people to realize their faults and not give up,” he said. “When they leave prison, they can go back out to their communities. Have a really good idea at what they need to do to be successful fathers, and brothers and sisters."

You can find out more about the exhibit at

To watch the original story and see related arts reporting, follow this link to the KSTP-TV website.