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Rikers Moms Connect With Children Through Art

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A Brooklyn artist is using murals as a form of communication between incarcerated women and their children. NY1's Jeanine Ramirez filed the following report.

White cinder block walls with steel security gates line the hallways at Rikers Island Correctional Facility. The women's jail at Rikers contains a large percentage of inmates who are mothers, including Safiyah Tate.

"I love my children and I just feel guilty that I put them through so much pain in being away," Tate says.

Now, Tate is connecting to her children through art. She's one of a dozen mothers at Rikers painting a mural on a jailhouse wall with images of her children. The design is based on messages and drawings that their children sent to them as part of the art project.

"The children of these mothers really face a lot of hardship in their communities, being separated from their mom, feeling judged, feeling judged by people in their schools," says artist Katie Yamasaki. "And this is a way they can continue the dialogue with their mothers, even during the separation."

The visual dialogue will continue in East Harlem, where the children will paint a mural based on messages and images sent by their mothers. These moms say the artwork not only brightens their days but it's also a form of therapy.

"This helped me a lot because I have my mind keeping busy," said one.

Yamasaki had been raising money on Kickstarter, a website where supporters can contribute to a project. She's also been coordinating with the Department of Correction for months. She started her art workshops with the women in early July.

"Some of them had experience and an art background and some of them didn't," Yamasaki says. "But what they all really had in common was this real intense desire to be in communication with their kids."

The mural at Rikers is expected to be completed next week. The kids will start their project in East Harlem later in August. NY1 will be following along the way.

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