Until now, the paintings of Charles Bastien have only been on display in two very different places: his parents’ home in Montreal, and on the walls of the Fort Saskatchewan Correctional Centre, where Bastien is nearing the end of a sentence for mischief and uttering threats.

Bastien was approached by guards about painting a mural on the walls of the prison’s Native Cultural Room. The result was a colourful work, created by Bastien and other inmates, that stretches across the room’s institutional white brick walls.

“[Art] tells me that I'm not the bad person or low life,” he said.

“I produce something like that and I say “did I do that?”

Charles Bastien

Charles Bastien, an inmate at the Fort Saskatchewan Correctional Centre, is one of the artists whose work will be displayed at the Nina Haggerty Gallery. (CBC )

Drawings and paintings by Bastien are part of  "The Artist Inside—Removing Barriers Through Art," an exhibit featuring 50 works from inmates in institutions across Alberta now on display at the Nina Haggerty gallery in Edmonton.

The art was originally intended for display in government offices. However, after seeing the quality of the inmates’ work, the justice department decided that the public should see it too.  

“There’s a lot of talent in jail, believe it or not,” Bastien said.

For Shane McDonald, creating art is a way to make a positive contribution to society. He wields his pencils and pastels at a small desk in his cell, sometime spending 14 hours a day on his creations. 

"It's like creating something and focusing and meditating all at the same time," he said. 

Proceeds to be donated to charity

Shauna Prior, director of the Fort Saskatchewan institution, said creating art can be a powerful part of the rehabilitation process. Having the work on display outside the walls of the prison can help inmates see themselves as people who can once again join society, she said.

“I think its a way for them to show the stereotypical inmate is not somebody to cast away but recognize the good in them.”

Bastien agrees. With just over two weeks left in his sentence, he worries the preconceptions people carry about those who have spent time in prison can make it difficult once someone gets out.

Most, he said, land in custody after struggling with addiction. He hopes the exhibit will break down some of those barriers.

“People who come into these jails, they don’t even want to touch the things we touch. I see it around me,” he said.

“Maybe this will bring out that these people are just like us, except they went wrong somewhere.”

McDonald would like the institution to have an art program for inmates. 

 "It sure brings peace and a lot of serenity for while you're here," he said. "It's a wonderful thing."

Prints of some of the work will be on sale, with proceeds going to charity.

The Artist Inside will run at the Nina Haggerty gallery until the end of October.