Sharing Stories Peace of Mind Blog

Community Connection in Franklin County Jails with Tresalyn Butler

Our February here at PeaceLove Studios started off on a great note, as our team received an email with a True Q Magazine article featuring one our very own CREATORS: Deputy Tresalyn Butler. Tresalyn works in the Franklin County jail system and conducts PeaceLove workshops with people who are incarcerated. True Q Magazine, a publication based out of Ohio, works to share the experiences of the LGBTQ+ community. True Q approached Deputy Tresalyn Butler, wanting to write an article about the work she does with her LGBTQ+ population.

I had the opportunity to speak more with Tresalyn over the weekend. Tresalyn alternates workshops in six-week cycles between a maximum security unit and a special housing unit of individuals who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community.

It is a devastating reality, but the opportunity to be vulnerable and expressive, to discuss one’s feelings, is not frequently presented to the incarcerated population. There is very little space for them to share and to feel truly heard. When Tresalyn said this to me, I had to take a step back for a moment. While deep down part of me understood this, there was a part of me that was intensely upset the more I thought about it. The right to talk about our feelings and to feel safe should not be an exclusive one. It is a need. Everyone should have access to space in which they can be themselves without fear of judgement.

I am very thankful for Deputy Butler and the incredibly necessary work she is doing.

Be sure to check out the article below!

Creating Community in Franklin County Jails 

By Kaylee Duff

In November of last year, a new LGBT- specific program was launched in the Franklin County jail system — but the inspiration for it has been around even longer. Franklin County’s corrections division has been running an award-winning program called Pathways for a few years. Pathways focuses on women, and a part of that programming includes PeaceLove, an expressive art workshop where participants can learn to express themselves and further understand the way they think and feel.

(Above: Ohio Senator Rob Portman describing a mandala made by one of the women in the Pathways program during a PeaceLove workshop.)

Chief Deputy Penny Perry-Balonier (Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, Corrections Division) and Michael Daniels (Director of Justice Policy and Programs, Franklin County Board of Commissioners) had been looking for a way to bring LGBT-specific programming into the jails, to accommodate a growing need for community. After researching and discovering there were no other LGBT-specific programs in jails nationwide, Deputy Tresalyn Butler proposed adapting the PeaceLove program for those needs.

“When we started discussing looking for something LGBT-specific, in terms of programming for the folks in our facility, it was difficult,” Deputy Butler explained. Most programs formatted for the justice system involve different types of therapy, such as therapy for substance abuse or behavioral therapy, and weren’t LGBT-focused. “Finding something for justice-involved people that are LGBT was pretty much impossible.”

After seeing the success PeaceLove and other expressive arts programs had elsewhere, they decided to move forward and implement it to serve LGBT-identified males in the Franklin County jail system. “We thought it was a great idea to run it as a pilot program and see what the feedback is,” Chief Perry-Balonier said. “So far, we’ve had a lot of great, positive feedback on it.”

PeaceLove was initially launched in Rhode Island by OSU alum Jeff Spar, as a community-based expressive arts program. It functions similarly to art therapy, focused on using art as a way to open up, express and learn more about yourself, but without actual therapy occuring or therapists facilitating. Originally meant to cope with mental health issues, it was adapted by the Corrections Division as a way for incarcerated LGBT males to cope with the chaos of life while also building community connections.

The PeaceLove program in the Franklin County jail system consists of six different workshops, including Creative Calisthenics, Dual Emotions, Story Shoes, and Rhythm and Color. The group meets once a week for two hours. “Participants go through different forms of artwork, and it’s about the process not the product,” Deputy Butler said. “The idea is that this helps break down the walls, barriers, and stigmas, by bringing them all together.”

Each workshop consists of a different style of art (such as painting, drawing, and even music), which generally focuses on both exploring the self and working together. That’s followed by time for open sharing and discussion. Deputy Butler emphasized that they “made sure it was a safe space and a judgement-free zone, so people can be free to share and be who they are.”

(Above: Works of art created during Creative Calisthenics workshops led by Deputy Butler.)

(Above: A work of art created during a Dual Emotions workshop led by Deputy Butler.)

One workshop, Dual Emotions, is particularly powerful for this group. They talked about how people tend to display different emotions or appearances on the outside than they feel internally. The participants really opened up during this workshop, since “especially in a corrections institutions, you have to show something outside than what’s really going on inside,” explained Deputy Butler.

The masterpieces created during the workshops will be displayed in the hallways of the new jail currently being built in Franklin County. This way, Chief Perry-Balonier explained, those through the facilities — including both community members in addition to the offenders themselves — can have the chance to see how the incarcerated individuals are expressing themselves.

Each workshop ends with an evaluation, where the participants can tell the facilitators how the program is helping. The evaluations are overwhelmingly positive, with the men writing how they are learning to cope in addition to getting a space for community and self-expression.

In fact, the community connection component is one thing that PeaceLove couldn’t exist without. On the last day of the program, they held a community resource day; instead of making art, the participants received community connections and resources to use after being released. Kimberly Griffiths for OCTOPUS (Organizing Communities Transgender Outreach Promoting United Support) presented, and gave them general community resources alongside LGBT-specific resources. Chief Perry-Balonier and Deputy Butler explained that many of the incarcerated individuals may not know what resources are available in the area, so it’s important to provide them with access to those resources.

The overall expectation for the PeaceLove program is to give these men tools they can utilize after once they’re released, especially in terms of using art as both a coping mechanism and self-expression. “It’s like planting a seed,” Chief Perry-Balonier said. “This is something positive they received while incarcerated. Maybe they’ll be reflecting and remember how they felt, and that will lead to them doing [the artwork] at home.”

The PeaceLove program, as utilized in the Franklin County jails, is the first LGBT-specific program in a county jail. Even more, those supporting, running and backing this program (including Chief Perry-Balonier, Deputy Butler and Daniels) are proud members of the LGBTQ+ community.  Both the Sheriff’s Office and the Board of Commissioners are excited to be on the front line of important, progressive programming. “We’re really proud to be able to implement this kind of program, and hopefully we can be recognized nationwide for taking the lead and doing something different,” stated Chief Perry-Balonier.

Daniels, who had a part in backing the development of the programming, says that the PeaceLove programs “shows how progressive we are and how much we recognize that addressing the culturally competent needs of a variety of different groups of inmates is the correct thing to do overall to serve public safety and to make it as easy as possible for those folks to understand what triggered the behavior that got them there and give them a way to not recreate that behavior once they’re discharged from jail.”

“We very much believe that all of those folks deserve equal and equitable access to programming and services regardless of whether they are opening a new restaurant or returning from incarceration,” he continued. “We are not afraid to take a step outside and say we recognize that not only do we have a very vibrant and important and integrated LGBT community here in Franklin County, that means that we have to address not just the really great things that happen in the LGBT community and celebrate the successes — but we also have to address the problems that happen in the LGBT community.”

Moving forward, the Sheriff’s Office and Board of Commissioners in Franklin County believe that, as the community grows in Columbus, so will their staff and so will their policies and programming. The support from Sheriff Dallas Baldwin has been critical in implementing the PeaceLove program; his support and backing of such programs allows the Corrections division to be as progressive and trendsetting as they are today. They’re still working on expanding the workshops into a core curriculum, so the LGBT community members within the walls of the jails can have the care and community and connections that they need.

Article reposted from True Media Group.


Victoria Rose is a writer and musician from Providence, Rhode Island.