Art—and Compassion —Behind Bars

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Steel bars and cinder blocks: Those harsh images would seem to define the perimeters of prison life. But when Pennsylvania sculptor James Lloyd FA’68 was asked to create a work of art for the hospice chapel of the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, he transformed those forms into more freeing metaphors for the human spirit.

The result, Reliquary for a ChosenSpirit, is a 1,400-pound altar sculpture made of rebar steel, slate, acrylic, and 24-karat gold and nickel plating, as well as halogen, ultraviolet, and internal laser lighting. 

With 5,100 inmates—80 percent of whom are serving life sentences —Angola is the largest male, maximum-security prison in the country. It also has a four-year-old hospice program in which volunteer inmates care for the sick and dying.

Before making the sculpture, Lloyd toured the prison and met with hospice volunteers. “I had some ideas, but this visit completely changed them, because I got really affected by how amazing these men were. They were changed by the circumstances of helping others die. Their hearts are filled with light even though they’re in prison.” The sculpture took Lloyd seven months to make and, with the help of inmates, four days to install.

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