Since the inception of Maine’s prison system, inmates have been kept busy by craftwork. It began with the menial labor of constructing wooden wagons and later pressing license plates. Today, the prisoners of the Maine Department of Corrections showcase everything from dollhouses to lobster traps, all available at a reasonable price.
The inmates seem to enjoy creative control over their products. Though many of the crafts fit a mold (dozens of identical piggy banks and wooden lampshades), some of them are true works of art. There are artisanal puzzle boxes and impossibly intricate wooden ships, as well as many other maritime-themed objects. There are frosty woodland paintings of rustic cabins in wintertime. Showroom patrons are graced by the vision of “Neptune’s Ride,” a life-sized, shirtless sea god riding a Harley with a busty mermaid on the back, in the front window.
A visit to the Maine State Prison Showroom offers a poignant bit of insight into the people on the inside. Inmates are all different kinds of folks who enjoy expressing themselves in various ways. They, like everyone else, need a creative outlet.