Paths of Discovery: Art Practice and Its Impact in California Prisons

Paths of Discovery is a new book collaboration by Larry Brewster and Peter Merts. Larry is a professor, author, and former dean who wrote a crucial and much-quoted article evaluating Arts-in-Corrections in 1983 and then a follow-up article in 2010. The book includes interviews with inmate-artists and ex-cons who participated in these prison arts programs. Larry’s compassionate and insightful attention to the issues of prisoners has been a great benefit to prisoners and society.

Peter, a fine art and documentary photographer, has generously given his time and talents for many years to the documentation of the work and creative process of inmate artists, as well as beautiful portraits of the artists themselves. In so doing he has provided some respect and legitimacy for this art and its creators and allowed their work to be shared much more broadly. Peter’s prison photos as well as his other gorgeous photography can be seen at  (and photos specifically of the Creative Writing class can be found here, here, here, and here.)

Both Larry and Peter have been wonderful friends and supporters of our Creative Writing class over the years.

This gorgeous book is available through CreateSpace at

Paths of Discovery: Art Practice and Its Impact in California Prisons tells the story in words and pictures of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated men and women who found their own voices through self-examination and the discipline of an artistic process. The California Arts-in-Corrections program brought together inmate artists and artist-teachers to explore the world of fine art in its many forms; along the way, countless inmates discovered untapped skills, sensitivities, and the rewards of self-discipline.

Artistic ability is respected inside prison walls. Arts-in-Corrections empowered men and women to take control of their lives through creative expression in the visual arts, poetry, music and other fine arts. The mission of Arts-in-Corrections was to provide inmates with the highest quality instruction, delivered by successful, working artists – many of whom became role models and mentors to the inmates. The program was established in 1980 and sadly ended in 2010 – a victim of the state’s budget crisis. The program was proven to have significantly reduced institutional tension, violence and recidivism. By travelling with their teachers down paths of discovery, inmate artists were enabled to retain their humanity while doing time. Many of them learned to serve something more valuable than their sentences.

The photographs in this book show many of the inmate artists at work, and their finished products. Through interviews and poetry you will hear in their own voices how prison arts programming helped them transcend their prisoner ID numbers and identify as artists. This book documents the existence – inside the razor wire and bleak walls of prison – of some talented and sensitive artists who have found new paths of discovery through the artistic process.



About Brothers In Pen

Brothers in Pen is the collective name of the Wednesday Night Creative Writing Class at San Quentin State Prison facilitated by Zoe Mullery.
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