By Jim Benemann
DENVER (CBS4) – The place can be easy to miss. It’s tucked in a small space at Bruce Randolph Avenue and Franklin Street in northeast Denver.
But big things are happening at the Open Door Tea Shop.
Former inmates are getting help transitioning back into society while current inmates are enjoying the therapeutic benefits of creating artwork behind the prison walls.
Artwork that is sold at the shop, and all the proceeds going to help the inmates’ families pay the bills while they’re incarcerated.
William Gomez is Open Door’s only full-time employee. He also spent seven years behind bars, where his artistic talent flourished.
He says for inmates, art is often the only way to express themselves, and the demons and dreams they hold within.
“I guess it allows them to say more than they can otherwise in that environment. It’s true what they say about a picture saying a thousand words. Their work speaks for who they are,” Gomez said.
He has sold 10 pieces through Open Door. He has real talent, but is too humble to say much about it.
Kristen Cardenas founded Open Door Tea Shop. She’s dedicated much of her life to promoting the powerful benefits of art therapy — both in the community and also behind prison walls.
Inmates request permission to make contact with Open Door. If it’s granted, they can sell their artwork through the shop to help their families.
“A lot of time a mom or grandparent is raising several children on their own because of the prisoner’s crime and doing the time,” said Cardenas. “And they do it without child support, obviously, so the artwork is often the only spending money they get to support those kids.”
The pieces on display at Open Door gives great insight to those artists back in prison.
Cardenas says the inmates often include a personal note explaining what they hope to convey with their works. It’s often an apology to all those people they’ve hurt.
Kayla Brittenbrink is a regular customer and one of Open Door’s biggest boosters.
“I tell everyone I meet about it. I just love Open Door and their mission and it’s fun sharing the story,” she said.
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She says the coffee she was sipping on was absolutely delicious. And take it from me, the baked goods delivered every morning are to die for.
Jim Benemann is a longtime anchor at CBS4. He’s coming up on 40 years in the TV news business and loves reporting on the stories Coloradans are talking about. Send him your story ideas and follow Jim on Twitter @jimbcbs4.