Program turns teen offenders into artists

10:47 AM, Apr 21, 2011   |    comments
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"Too hard [to count the days,]" he said.

Ramirez, who was convicted on kidnapping and assault charges, will be allowed to leave the facility in mid-May. But before he goes, there is one thing he'd like to finish: a mural.

"It feels good, you know," he said while standing back and admiring his work, "doing something to give back."

Ramirez and 11 other young men at the facility are working with nationally-renowned artist Emanuel Martinez, known for colorful murals. Even though his work can be seen at locations across the United States, Martinez prefers to do some of his work at youth detention centers including Lookout Mountain Youth Services Center.

"It is something that most programs aren't doing," he said. "They're not addressing this group of kids. They're kind of like a forgotten population."

Martinez's opportunity to help the "forgotten" came when Denver resident Louisa Craft, founder of the non-profit Art for Kids program, came up with the idea to create The Emanuel Project. While Art for Kids already focused on providing art supplies to homeless and at-risk youth, the Emanuel Project focused on providing artistic opportunities for incarcerated youth with the opportunity to be personally taught my Martinez, himself.

"He's well-known in the community, so doing this for him is pretty cool," Ramirez said of the opportunity to work with Martinez.

Martinez has been tapped to create six murals at the Lookout Mountain Youth Services Center by May. The themes range from health to community and education.

For him, the trip to Lookout Mountain is like a journey back into his own history. As an adolescent, he was also sent to the facility.

"I was a very troubled youngster," Martinez said.

But the moments he spent in confinement turned out to be life-changing.

"I did my first mural here," he said. "My whole life was turned around."

Tam Ngo, who is also helping to paint murals after being sentenced on assault, drug and forgery charges, can identify with the change that Martinez experienced.

"It makes me feel good that I'm worthy of making something," Ngo said.

Officials with the facility say they've noticed better behavior among the young men who participate in the program.

"It's really helping their treatment at Lookout Mountain," said Colorado Department of Human Services Executive Director Reggie Bicha.

Just looking at the three finished murals is inspiring to young men like Ngo. He hopes to move beyond the mistakes he's made in the past.

"Hopefully," he said, "someone will remember me for doing something good."

Find out more about the Project by watching the video below:

(KUSA-TV © 2011 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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