BISMARCK, ND (KFYR) – Those who are incarcerated have a major decision to make: how they will spend their time behind bars. For one man, that meant working to learn more about his cultural heritage and discovering how art can bring something positive to the world.
“Well, this teepee that I made just a few days ago,” said Phillip Seewalker, a resident worker at Rough Rider Industries.
Seewalker exhibits works of art he has produced over the past six years.
“I’ve never done anything like this before. I didn’t really know how to draw that well,” Seewalker said.
The art started out as a request to make a birdhouse, but evolved into something more meaningful.
“He has no indication from anyone else about it. He just brings his own creative ideas together and I think that’s what makes him great,” Alexis Burgard, accounting and marketing specialist at Rough Rider Industries.
He works in a Rough Rider Industries workshop in Bismarck. He says he never realized he had that kind of creativity.
“When I first arrived, I was a little confused. A confused guy. I didn’t really want to do what I wanted to be… Just trouble. I was mad at the world. So, one day I woke up and I just thought this wasn’t for me. You know, I have to do something,” Seewalker said.
Through art, he embraces Native American designs that he has learned more about.
“I always use red, black, yellow, and white for all four directions,” Seewalker said.
He says the job has helped him redirect energy from his past and allows him to encourage those around him.
“It’s therapeutic. You know, it helps you. It clears your mind,” Seewalker said.
Each tipi takes Phillip and several other RRI workers who help him about a day to build and a few days to paint. He’s done about 50 so far and plans to keep creating.
Once Phillip’s tipis are completed, they are placed on the showroom floor and sent to the North Dakota Heritage Center or North Dakota Embroidery & Gifts.
Rough Rider Industries is a self-funded state agency that employs inmates at North Dakota State Penitentiary, James River Correctional Center, and Missouri River Correctional Center to teach them a trade. No taxpayer money is used for the programs. Revenue generated from product sales helps defray the cost of programs within the North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
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