NEW HAVEN, Conn. – Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel, imprisoned for killing a teenage neighbor, is spending some of his time in prison creating art that depicts beauty, danger and the loss of innocence.
Skakel, convicted in 2002 of killing Martha Moxley in 1975, participates in a program that lets inmates show another side to their lives. His drawing of his 9-year-old son George will be among those on public display starting Thursday at Capital Community College in Hartford.
The drawing shows the boy wearing a T-shirt that reads "love" and surrounded by colorful animals. A nearby skeleton with sunglasses symbolizes death, but two doves overhead depict triumph over death, said Jeffrey Greene, manager of Community Partners in Action, the nonprofit group that runs the program.
"He's expressing that he himself is not dead and that his incarceration does not negate the fact that he is alive and he is still part of his son's life," Greene said. "There's all this beauty but there are all these dangers as well."
An eyeball in the sky symbolizes God watching over the boy, but a lamb is shown next to a lion.
"He worries about the dangers his son will face that Michael can't protect him from," Greene said, noting a common concern among prisoners. "You lose control of any ability to protect your family."
Skakel, a nephew of Ethel Kennedy, is serving 20 years to life for bludgeoning Moxley to death with a golf club in wealthy Greenwich. He maintains that he is innocent.
The program, which brings artists into prisons to work with inmates, seeks to raise public awareness about the inmates and help them be productive and prepare for possible creative work if they are released. The program's annual cost of about $100,000 annually is paid for by the state and private foundations.
It has helped some family members who cannot reconcile the inmates' crimes connect with them through their art, Greene said.
Skakel says the art is a way for him to communicate with his son, family and friends and helps him cope with life in prison.
"It's a way to express love and creativity," he said in a written response to questions. "It conveys my spiritual belief in God being the father to the fatherless. The 'eye in the sky' represents God's all knowing and love for my son."
In another piece, Skakel drew a comic strip about the loss of innocence. A young boy wants to play football, but his friends are not home. Then he runs into someone who gives him marijuana to smoke.
Many states offer such programs, but Connecticut has one of the most extensive, Greene said. The program keeps a permanent collection of the art work made over the years, publishes an annual journal and runs special projects such as using art by inmates to educate others about AIDS and drugs.
Two studies in the 1980s found such programs reduced disciplinary problems and recidivism among inmates, according to the William James Association, a nonprofit which runs a program in California.
"It just works on so many different levels," said Laurie Brooks, executive director of the William James Association. "It kind of transforms some of the destructive tendencies they have into a more productive approach to life and a more positive outlook on themselves."
Michael Iovieno said he was selfish and did mean things when he entered prison in 1984 for sexual assault. Then he started drawing landscapes and seascapes in prison.
"I saw I'm not just a bad person," Iovieno said. "I do nice drawings."
Iovieno, 53, of Bolton, said showing his drawings after he got out of prison in 2004 allowed people to see him as someone other than a sex offender.
"I think things through more now," Iovieno said. "I don't act out on impulses, even though I get some crazy thoughts."
Danny Killion, who was released from prison last year after serving more than a decade for bank robberies, said that when he began sculpting and painting he would think about why he was locked up in prison.
"It's something that teaches you to be far more introspective," Killion said.
Killion, 37, of Albany, N.Y., said he's doing carpentry and planning to get married. He keeps his art work on display in his apartment.
"It gives you another boost of confidence," Killion said. "I still definitely have a desire to be creative. It's something I'll always have."