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Focus on the future
Blue Jacket’s 2nd Chances turns life stories into art
By Greg Jackson
Fort Wayne Reader
Spend a little time among the people who pass through the programs at Blue Jacket, Inc. and you’ll hear some remarkable and compelling stories. Blue Jacket is a social and economic development non-profit whose mission is to provide tools and opportunities for adults with felony records to be productive members of society. Whether through bad choices, bad circumstances, or bad luck, many of Blue Jacket’s clients have seen the uglier side of life.
But it’s not all grim. Far from it. You’ll hear far more inspirational stories, redemptive stories, stories of people seizing the opportunity that Blue Jacket provides — another chance to get their life back on track.
The annual 2nd Chance Art Event gives a client from Blue Jacket the opportunity to tell their story in all its many aspects — where they are, where they came from, and where they are going — by teaming them up with a local artist for a unique collaboration.
I have a close relationship to 2nd Chance; my wife was involved with the event for a few years and we are also friends of some of the folks who work at Blue Jacket. I believe in the work they do to aid people who want to change their life from a less-than-desirable path back to one involving consistent work, living space, comfort, and an overall positive direction in life. As Tony Hudson, Executive Director of Blue Jacket, puts it, the “true” work they do is to help those who want to put the work in to help themselves.
The journey of moving up from whatever bottom you may hit comes from within; it can’t be done by anyone else. Case in point: this year’s artist and client combination of Erin Patton and Donald Fields, with Erin using her art to tell the story of how Donald finds the power to move forward from his relationship with his father and his daughter. Donald’s daughter Maddison was actually a former student of Erin’s, long before Erin took on this project with Blue Jacket; it’s kind of a happy accident that Erin was paired up with Donald for this project. Erin had no trouble remembering Maddison as a student — according to Erin, Maddison has one of those big, positive personalities that seem to light up a room when she walks into it.
Donald chose to focus on the current and future positive aspects of life rather than rehash the past and how he may have landed into this position. He pulls from his relationship with both his father and his daughter to muster the resources and strength to change his circumstance in life. When I talked with Erin I got the sense of how important it is for Donald to be a good father to Maddison and to raise her to respect the true meaning of family and being able lean on family when times get tough. That wasn’t always the case with Donald and his father, but is now, and the important part of that statement is the “now” portion. Donald didn’t want to dwell in the past; his focus was on the great relationship he had with his family now.
Donald talks about the choices in life that you make and the ones that are made for you sometimes, and how you either make or react to those choices is what forms your view on life and what type of person you become. We all hit crossroads in our path throughout this world and it really depends on not only what direction we go, but what type of positive attitude we have when we go down that pathway. We have all been guilty of making choices based solely on our personal view of what we want, but it’s when you start making those choices based upon how they affect the people who depend on you that starts to form how you are as a parent. Donald’s focus now and in the future is on making choices based upon how they affect Maddison.
Donald is not with Maddison’s mother, but works closely with her and her husband to raise Maddison. It’s a complicated family model, made easier by Donald’s overwhelmingly positive attitude; he really has no ill will aimed at the mother or her current husband, recognizing that, in the end, its Maddison who gets hurt when the adults act like children. It takes a really big person to be able to do that. I had divorced parents from the age of 10 until my father died a few years ago. I was put in a tough place often — public bickering between the two parties; freely spoken insults in private — with both parent putting themselves above my “needs” by being petty and childish. I cannot say enough about what type of person it takes to be able to work alongside the mother of your child and her husband to make a better life for the child. That tells me everything I could ever need to know about what type of father and person Donald is.
It comes as no surprise that Erin and Donald’s 2nd Chance work is “about” Maddison. Erin Patton wanted to use a very common method for creating her artwork for this project rather than something more complicated that couldn’t be explained to the “everyday” person. She took photos with her Iphone and blended them with images of our state flower and different geometric shapes to come up with her finished pieces. She then got them copied into final layered cyanotypes to tell the story of a common father and daughter who are not all that common at all. I know from experience what type of “not common” man it takes to become a father to one of these large personality girls in today’s world. I do not know what background Donald came from, nor do I need to know, but I can say having 2 daughters of my own I can only try to live up to what I believe Donald exemplifies with his actions and choices today. We could all learn a lesson in getting closer to our kids when it it’s all boiled down to life and what we empower them with tool-wise for tomorrow.
For more information on Blue Jacket, Inc and Second Chances, visit bluejacketinc.org