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Mural inspired by McGrath House residents tells story of incarcerated women

July 19, 2017

BOSTON – Every morning driving up Tremont Street, state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz calls out to her 4-year-old daughter to spot the two statues of abolitionist Frederick Douglass.

Now there’s a new public art display on their route, and one close to Chang-Diaz’s heart as a mom, a lawmaker, and an advocate for criminal justice reform. It’s a four-story mural representing the insights, struggles, and perseverance of incarcerated women.

“I was so thrilled to see this mural coming up because I’m so thirsty on her behalf to be able to show her public art that is focused on women," Chang-Diaz, D-Boston, said Tuesday during a gathering to celebrate the completion of the project, emblazoned in black, white, and fluorescent red on the side of a residential building at 808 Tremont St.

The mural, called “See Her” by Detroit artist and activist Ann Lewis, was inspired by Lewis’ meetings with residents of McGrath House, CRJ’s residential reentry center for women. Boston nonprofit Now + There, which promotes public art projects in the city, connected Lewis and McGrath House.

The crowd at the celebration included Boston City Councilors Annissa Essaibi George and Ayana Pressley, representatives from the Peoples Baptist Church across the street, CRJ staff, and several of the women whose stories inspired Lewis.

Laura Minot, whose photograph is featured prominently in the mural above the word “choice” spelled out in a maze-like pattern, said she was thrilled when she saw the finished mural a day earlier.

“I’m really honored to do it,” she said. “I’m really glad to do it because there’s a meaning behind it – the community helping each other and women standing up for each other.”

Minot, who posed for photos in front of the mural with her family, said the mural will serve as inspiration to keep positive after she leaves McGrath in a few months.

Chang-Diaz said the mural should also serve as inspiration to the community and to lawmakers, who have been debating a slew of criminal justice reform bills. She noted that the temporary mural is scheduled to come down in October of 2018, just a few months after the current legislative session ends.

“This piece of artwork could not be more timely,” she said. “I hope you will push us as a Legislature to have accomplished real, meaningful, substantive criminal justice reform by the time this mural comes down.”

Megan Costello, executive director of Boston’s Office of Women’s Advancement, read a proclamation from Mayor Martin Walsh announcing July 18 as “See Her Day” in the city.

Transitioning out of incarceration comes with a host of hurdles, including finding housing, getting a job, and often accessing mental health or substance abuse treatment. For women, the transition can be especially difficult. A 2015 study by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Department of Corrections found that about 25 percent of women were working six months after their release compared to 57 percent of men.

Lewis said the mural offers viewers a choice.

“We as a society have a choice to look away or to engage with women embroiled in our criminal justice system,” she said.

For Minot and the other women at McGrath, the mural is a testament to their strength, said Lisa Chute, assistant program director at McGrath.

“They are so proud of themselves with this incredible mural,” Chute said. “It means a lot to them and it means a lot to me.”

For more coverage of the mural project, click below:

Boston Globe

WBUR

WBUR (again)

Big Red & Shiny

Artnet