MILWAUKEE –– The annual Restorative Justice Art Auction and Sale for The Cathedral Center will end with its May 11 event, after 10 years of service.

The event isn’t ending because it lacks support or funds, but because 10 years is the length of time that its founders planned to continue the art auction and sale of inmates’ art pieces.

dragonAn inmate welded this dragon in a metal shop for The Cathedral Center’s last annual Restorative Justice Art Auction and Sale on May 11. Items like this made by inmates and sold at the event for the past 10 years have raised more than $35,000 for the center, which aims to reduce the poverty rate among women and children. (Submitted photo courtesy the Cathedral Center)“We’re hoping, obviously, this is the biggest and best year because it is the last,” said Rose Larson, program supervisor for the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility, of the event that will take place from 4:30 to 8 p.m. in the atrium of the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, 812 N. Jackson St. “If we’re going to look to do something else, it’s a great time to end it after 10 years.”

Larson said the idea for the annual event came from the detention facility community advisory board as a way to give inmates more activity. They reached out to The Cathedral Center that provides emergency shelter and case management services for women and families who are homeless or experiencing a housing crisis, which was opening at that time.

“It was really a kind of shot in the dark as to how we were going to put it all together and how it was going to work, and it really took off,” Larson said. “We didn’t know what to expect.”

Over the last decade the event has raised more than $35,000 for The Cathedral Center.

“The purpose of this is to combine the concept of ‘restorative justice’ with the services that we provide at The Cathedral Center,” said Donna Rongholt-Migan, executive director of The Cathedral Center. “This is the inmates’ way of giving back and to repair some of the damage that has impacted society.”

Rongholt-Migan said the money raised from the event has funded different services offered by The Cathedral Center, which aims to reduce the poverty rate among women and children.

The Cathedral Center has an emergency shelter with 32 beds for women and eight rooms for families, an overflow shelter for extreme weather including blizzards, heat waves, etc., and case mangers to assist those in the shelter and in the community.

Rongholt-Migan said the center assisted 179 families in times of crisis last year. Of those, 122 avoided shelters.

“We know when a family is disrupted through incarceration, poverty, etcetera, that it becomes very traumatic for the individual family members, especially children,” Rongholt-Migan said. “The whole idea is to have a relationship with the families before they actually become homeless.”

She added the incarcerated have a “ripple effect” on families who once depended on them and often The Cathedral Center steps in to help.

“Some of those families do end up homeless or in need of support in order to prevent homelessness,” she said. “I see this stuff every day and I see the people who are impacted. It’s heartwarming. It returns hope to an individual to see people making an effort to correct past mistakes.”

Larson said the art auction and sale has allowed the community to see the “good things the inmates are doing.” Also, the institutions inform them where the money is going and that “generates a higher quality item.”

“The inmates do want to give back,” Larson said. “I think the majority of our inmates, because they are getting out, realize that they have harmed the community in some way and this is just one way that they can give or repair some of the harm they have done.”

The art pieces are relatively inexpensive. Larson said some pictures are priced as low as $1 while some framed pieces can range between $30-40.

This year some inmates will be making equipment for several “bag toss” sets, popular at sports tailgating events. Inmates from minimum-security facilities will also hand out drinks and hors d’ouevres at the event, Larson said.

Although May 11 will mark the last annual art auction and sale, an event that helps integrate the inmates back into the community and helps the community accept them back, the center will continue to work on “restorative justice” with the hopes that a new event will be “just as fabulous as this has been over the last 10 years,” Larson said.

“It’s really important that the community realizes that 95 percent of the inmates who are incarcerated are going to get back out and be in our community,” Larson said. “They are coming back to our community and the more that they can give back to the community the more the community can embrace them, the better off the community and the returning inmates are going to be.”