Abolishion was greatly blessed with the presence of Dr. Michelle Sanders and her husband Mick. The two are long-time friends of Abolishion founder, Leanne Rhodes, from back in her Melbourne days before moving to Romania to combat human trafficking. Michelle is currently working on her second doctorate degree analyzing the use of art to help people cope with severely traumatic experiences. As she explained, trauma affects people at a sub-conscious level. The experiences are often embedded deep into the victim’s brain so that they may not be able to soundly explain their feelings and cope. Art, she argued, has the potential to bring people to the state of “Flow” in which trauma processed at the subconscious level can be released.
Michelle’s passion for community through her Art and Soul ministry, stems from her own experiences in which burn out from ministry put her into a dark season of life for two years. During that time, she discovered that art allowed her to cope and it had such a great impact on her life that she wants to teach art to others who are susceptible to burn out. So much so, that she works three jobs most of the year in order to go to San Francisco, Chicago, Birmingham, England, and Romania for a few weeks.
This week in Romania, the Abolishion team has partnered with Michelle so that survivors of trafficking can experience healing through her Art and Soul ministry. With social workers and hospice workers, Michelle has assisted in using art to help them process the secondary trauma they encounter because of the demands of their fields. And lastly, the Abolishion team accompanied Michelle into the city prison to encourage inmates and help them rediscover their value through art.
Prisoners are some of the most marginalized in society. The average person has never set foot in a prison, whether by sentence, to visit a loved one, or to volunteer. It is often a place of hopelessness full of people who feel purposeless. It is a place desperate for art and soul.
“I cannot imagine what it must be like to constantly, day after day, be reminded of the worst thing you have ever done, because that is what happens to you here in prison. You are reminded of the worst thing you have ever done and you forget that there are good qualities in you too!” Michelle encouraged them to really think to themselves about their strengths and their positive qualities because they hold more value than they are told.
The painting project Michelle led required a process and each layer brought its own smiles and laughter. Certain steps required drawing of the canvas with closed eyes. Others were to be done standing and painting with arms as loose as possible. Each step pushed the participants to possibly exit their comfort zone, ignore those around them, and focus on the present moment with the canvas since the next step remained a mystery.
Michelle’s encouraging words and peaceful soul created an atmosphere of relaxation and creativity that the inmates greatly enjoyed. One even exclaimed, “I feel like Leonardo! When I get out of here, I’m gonna teach my little girl to paint.” One of the teenage boys was quick to express his gratitude and ask for additional materials so he could continue with art during his pastime.
Only a few hours were physically spent within the walls of the prison, however, each participant was left with their work of art as a testament to the fact that they matter. What’s more, they developed a skill to help them process and cope with the difficulties in their lives both while remaining incarcerated or readjusting to life in a normal society again.
It was a sad farewell to Michelle and Mick Sanders as they were a great blessing to our team and the Romanians we were able to serve alongside her. We wish them safe travels back to Australia and extend our gratitude for their service, not only in Romania, but across the world. Until next year, thank you Mick and Michelle Sanders!