Philly mural artists seek employment after spending time in custody

 Artists work on the mural at Feltonville Recreation Center. (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

Artists work on the mural at Feltonville Recreation Center. (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

Some ex-offenders and men and women on work release are teaming up to paint a mural in Philadelphia’s Feltonville neighborhood.  

They are hoping the city can help them find a career in painting.

Fifteen people were at work recently in the basement of the Feltonville Recreation Center, applying paint to parachute cloth that will eventually become a mural for the center.  

After spending time in prison, Khalil Reid said he’s glad he joined the program.  His only prior painting experience was kitchens and bathrooms.

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“Changed my whole lifestyle,” he said. “I wake up at 6 o’clock in the morning, have to be here by 9, so got to be here a half an hour early to get my routine on.”

The group works on the mural in a “paint-by-numbers” format, filling in areas of parachute cloth with special paint, said artist Carlos Lopez Rosa.

“The system is created so — even if you don’t have that much experience painting murals or art — you are able to paint it anyways,” he said.

Brandon Wallace spent time in prison for fighting and selling drugs; after working on his second mural, he said he feels he’s developing a talent for art.

“It feels good … I feel different, like a new person cause I’m putting out art and murals and stuff for my friends and people I met,” Wallace said. “It’s more positive, not negative.”

Mayor Jim Kenney said he hopes the program is a stepping stone for ex-offenders to turn their lives around.

“There’s nothing more frustrating that going up to the prison system and talking to young men and women who are clearly talented and have the ability to succeed and — because of factors in their lives and things that didn’t happen or should have happened— they wind up [in prison],” Kenney said.  “But when they get out, there’s no reason for them to go back if we can find an opportunity for them to produce and contribute.”

The city’s Rebuild program, funded by a portion of the sweetened beverage tax revenues, could help some ex-offenders find jobs that will give them another chance, he said.

This story is part of the Reentry Project, an unprecedented collaboration among 15 of Philadelphia’s general interest newsrooms and community and ethnic media organizations to reveal and investigate credible responses to the challenges of recidivism and re-entry. You can find more stories from other partners in the project at

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