By Jim Douglas
GRAND PRAIRIE, TX — A large, colorful mural is under construction along Interstate 30 in Grand Prairie. “Under construction” could also be used to describe the workers installing the art.
“I went in for delivery of controlled substance,” said Trinidad Salazar. “And I did 20 years.”
She never expected to make much of a mark on the world. None of them did.
“I never thought I would do mosaic art or work with an artist,” said Michelle Tilley.
But, there they were Friday at I-30 and Belt Line Road, six hopeful ex-offenders out of prison on the road to a better future.
“The city of Grand Prairie gave me a chance and I’m capitalizing on it,” said Khoury Chatman, who also served time for drugs.
Grand Prairie’s Weed and Seed program uses Justice Department grants to give qualified ex-offenders job training. It doesn’t guarantee a job, but if they make it through the program, they emerge with skills and references.
The job in this case is to install a 233-foot mural made of recycled glass tiles.
This week, they applied a thick, dark waterproof barrier to keep tiles from popping off. Anyone out of prison trying to get a job knows a thing or two about barriers.
“Going through this program, I feel that now people will give me a chance,” said Michelle Tilley.
In recent months, Tilley and the others learned to set tile. Artist Pam Summers also taught them design. They went to museums, which only one had ever done before.
Pam Summers has never had students like these.
“Working with the ex-offenders has been more rewarding than I ever thought,” she said.
She admits she had some trepidation going into the project. Summers designed the mural she calls “Prairie Ribbon.”
“This is my interpretation of the indigenous flowers and grasses of Grand Prairie,” Summers explained.
It’s all due to the creative thinking of Tammy Chan, who wears a lot of hats with the city from street beautification to job training for ex-offenders.
“About 35 percent leave our program and connect with a full time job,” she said.
She’d like it to be higher, but she’s proud of the successes.
For this mural, Chan received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Grand Prairie Sports Facilities Development Corporation totaling nearly a quarter million dollars. The NEA was so taken with the idea, it also tossed in grant money to produce a documentary on the making of the mural.
The former inmates know Tammy Chan believes in them.
“I like to call them participants to honor the change in their life,” she said. “I would trust my life with any one of these participants.”
They hope to finish “Prairie Ribbon” by the end of August.
Cubes of recycled glass set by recycled human beings to brighten their world, and ours.