By Jennifer Mayerle

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Inmates and Minneapolis police formed a partnership of sorts in advance of Super Bowl 52. Offenders at five prisons, including the maximum security Oak Park Heights, are making Super Bowl artwork. It will be hung on the walls of Minneapolis Police Command Centers.

Art is an activity that comes with privilege inside Oak Park Heights maximum security prison.

“The art program is an opportunity for them to take control of what they would like to do,” teacher Bill Svendsgaard said.

Svendsgaard chose a select few offenders who have developed some of the life skills taught in class to work on a special Super Bowl 52 project. It’s a collaboration with Minneapolis Police.

“As you might imagine the Super Bowl is a public safety operation involving local state and federal officials and we have a few different facilities to help us manage that,” Minneapolis Police Commander Scott Gerlicher said.

The offenders were brought in to change the look of the blank walls inside those facilities.

“They’d be pretty boring, similar gray walls to what you see here in Oak Park Heights prison,” Commander Gerlicher said.

Their assignment?

“We thought it would be an opportunity just to show the entire history of the Super Bowl through the art and through the eye of the offenders,” Cari Gerlicher, Director Office of Special Investigations at the Department of Corrections, said.

One offender said although they are working individually, collectively they are working as a team to highlight Super Bowl logos throughout the years. He calls this a great opportunity.

“From the atmosphere and environment that prison can be but still being able to still give back while in here, I think that’s amazing.”

The art room, like the rest of the prison, is below ground and behind steel sliders. Creating the art will be the closest the offenders will get to the big game.

“It’s something that I never thought I’d be a part of. How can’t you be proud of something like that,” the offender said.

And it’s paying off in class too.

“It’s contagious, so that I have five guys at Oak Park Heights that are working on these and others are coming up and asking me, what can I do,” Svendsgaard said.

It’s real and meaningful restorative justice.

“Any time you can get an offender to get some positive conduct and positive feedback going out to the community that’s a win-win situation for all parties involved,” Commander Gerlicher said.

The artwork goes up in July. It will only be seen by Minneapolis Police and those working with the department on security. After the Super Bowl the team will identify places around the state, like boys and girls clubs or YMCA’s, to be permanent keepers of the art.

Jennifer Mayerle