Compassionate Staff and a New Art Class Help Residents at the Bell Unit Deal with Anger

Chaplain Mary Berry, of the Oliver J. Bell Unit in Cleveland, TX, is optimistic about the progress she’s making in her new class.

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Oliver J. Bell Unit Art Class with Chaplain Berry

“And that’s what it’s all about,” she says, “bringing out the best in them.”

As part of MTC’s 2021 40th Anniversary commemoration, the Bell unit recently participated in the mental health awareness campaign. Key leaders in the facility held a meeting to discuss what they could do to help some of the mental health challenges they’d seen among the residents. Pete Coffin is the warden.

“So, we all got together,” he explains, “and wondered, ‘how can we involve the inmates, how can we get them involved?’”

Chaplain Berry quickly led an effort to begin a mental health class for residents struggling with anger issues. A big component of the class is artwork.

“To be able to sit down and concentrate on a project,” says class member Clifford Cloer, “gave me therapy to the point that I was calm, cool, and collected.”

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Oliver J. Bell Unit Art Class Service Project

Resident Jose Jesus Mendez explains it this way:

“Just like you have to do a project, you have to do it in steps. Taking those steps is something you have to do in life, too, so we can actually use our therapy as a way to apply it in your life on an everyday basis, because you’re going to finish something and complete it, so it gives you that feeling of accomplishment.”

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BOliver J. Bell Unit Art Class Service Project

“The process of it is almost kind of like a caterpillar,” explains resident Jesse Gomez. “It goes through the development, it gets to it’s cocoon, and then it blossoms into a beautiful butterfly. That’s what we are, being incarcerated, and then changing our lives and our mindset, character development, and integrating it to be an asset to society.”

It wasn’t long before an opportunity came along for the art-driven anger management class to serve the Cleveland community. The city held a Halloween event and asked the facility to help with a booth.

All things considered, the anger management class, born out of the mental health awareness campaign, seems to be making a difference.

“With those particular individuals it has really helped,” says Warden Coffin. “Because they did have anger issues. They would be in front of disciplinary or they would be, for one reason or another, in the supervisor’s office. But that has definitely helped where they’re no longer there.”

“Because we can always look at the bad in a man,” explains Chaplain Berry, “but do we really look for the good in him?”

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Oliver J. Bell Unit Art Class with Chaplain Berry

“And that’s what I love about being in here, is the opportunity that I’m given to be free with my creativity do things that I feel within my heart, ‘okay, let’s try this, and let’s see if it works.’ And once I see that it works, ‘okay, then, we’re going to incorporate that into our program.’”