Lorena Padron was 15 years old when she sat in a car while three others set out for a robbery.
Now 18, Padron is making plans to attend the Art Institute of Atlanta to hone the art skills that have helped her cope with the depression of being incarcerated.
Padron, of Atlanta, is one of 16 teenagers who worked alongside artist Emanuel Martinez to paint a huge mural in the gymnasium of the Macon Youth Development Campus. The painting, “Visualize Your Potential,” was unveiled Wednesday.
Martinez said the teens painted at least 80 percent of the mural.
“These girls seemed so happy when they were working,” he said. “They worked very hard.”
One of the YDC’s purposes is to give young people the time to “think things through and see how to do them differently,” said Amy Howell, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice.
She said she’s proud of the girls -- not only for their work, but also for how they changed their behavior during the project.
Brittney Nicole Price, 18, of Albany, said she used to have a bad attitude, and her mouth sometimes got her into trouble.
Working on the 90-by-20-foot mural with the other girls helped her to change.
“I figured out if I could control my mouth, I’d have more opportunities” in life, Price said.
She has already earned her GED and is attending cosmetology classes while she’s incarcerated on an aggravated assault charge. She plans to pursue training in the nursing field when she’s released in June.
Besides helping the girls who painted the mural, Howell said, the artwork will remain an inspiration for others at the facility.
“This is going to be meaningful for years and years,” she said. “It’s about young ladies’ hope and seeing their potential.”
Annie Tucker, 18, of Albany, said she’d never painted before, but looking at the entire mural as she painted actually helped motivate her to graduate from high school.
She said she saw herself on the wall in the painted progression of images of a girl new to the facility who gains self-esteem, then an education and ultimately has multiple career choices.
“I’m hoping to graduate in May,” said Tucker, who’s been at the YDC for about two years after being convicted of stealing a car.
She’s aiming for release after her graduation so she can be with her 4-year-old daughter and go to school to become a nurse.
For 18-year-old Tahkiera Rogers of Atlanta, the project was relaxing.
“It’s just calming,” said Rogers, who’s served about three years from an arson case.
Rogers said she’s been chosen for a scholarship and has been accepted into Brenau University after her release. She plans to study fashion design and continue painting in her spare time.
While she’s got 11 months of her sentence remaining, Rogers said she hopes to gain an early release so she can begin classes in October.
Padron, who also draws, said Martinez critiqued her work and pushed her to be a better artist.
She painted one section of the mural that depicts a computer keyboard and a musical keyboard on her own, Martinez said.
The mural was sponsored by The Art for Kids Emanuel Project. The project, named for Martinez, started six years ago in Colorado by giving art supplies to children in homeless shelters, said Louisa Jornayvaz, the program’s founder.
After creating something on their own, the children became calmer and more focused, with better self-esteem, she said.
The program has evolved to providing art supplies to YDCs.
As a boy in Colorado, Martinez was incarcerated and not allowed to have art supplies. He improvised by secretly collecting matchsticks and drawing on paper towels with the charcoal tips.
A nurse discovered Martinez’s drawings and gave him art supplies. Decades later, three of his works of art are part of the Smithsonian’s Museum of American Art’s permanent collection.
The Macon YDC mural is the second Emanuel Project effort in a Georgia YDC. The first one was completed at the Muscogee YDC in January.