Kenneth Reams by Alice Aida Ayers

We’ve made it pretty easy to go about life without giving too much thought to incarcerated people. They’re not only kept behind bars, but kept out of sight, and it’s easy to forget that there are so many people living their lives so removed from the rest of us — 17,129 of them statewide, the Arkansas Department of Corrections reported in July. The Prison Portrait Project, an endeavor of the Compassion Works For All organization, works to foster connection and empathy by matching people in prison with local artists, who create a portrait of the confined person.


The portraits will be displayed at New Deal Gallery in Little Rock (2003 S. Louisiana St.) Friday, Nov. 18, 6-9 p.m., with fare from Lili’s Mexican Street Food. On Saturday, Nov. 19, the gallery opens at 1 p.m., and CWFA hosts a live storytelling event at 2 p.m. featuring stories from people who have been incarcerated in Arkansas. Proceeds from this event benefit the artists, as well as CWFA’s programming.

Artists include: Zina Al-Shukri, Alice Aida Ayers, Laura Brainard Raborn, Sydney Carmichael, Meikel Church, Adaja Cooper, Laura Fanning, DebiLynn Fendley, Melissa Gill, Amanda Heinbockel, Jose Hernandez, Tanya Hollifield, Layet Johnson, Omaya Jones, John Kushmaul, Ron McAdoo, Stacey McKinney, Michael Schaffer, Kasten Searles, Chrystal Ashunti Seawood, Ricky Sikes, Nicole Stewart, Sondra Strong, and Ellie Wheeler-Hill.


“This project is not about making claims on guilt or innocence, or whether someone is ‘good’ or ‘bad,'” a press release stated. “We invite viewers to reflect on our common humanity in light of this context, not because it’s easy, but specifically because it’s hard. If we sincerely believe that compassion works for all, then we must extend it even to those who have done egregious things and trust that compassion can be transformative.”