We Wish You Knew

We Wish You Knew

Juvenile Detention Center
"We Wish You Knew" mural by Maria Schirmer at the public entrance to Dane County Juvenile Detention Center

Created on two 8'x4' panels during winter break of the 2023-2024 school year at the Juvenile Detention Center (JDC) in Dane County, the We Wish You Knew mural greets all visitors – including law enforcement, social workers, lawyers and family members – when they enter the facility. The mural combines the students’ wishes for themselves with what they wish people knew about them. Their wishes were handwritten in the background, a reminder to listen to their personal narratives. 

The Process: 

JDC administration selected the location of the mural as a way to bring the voices of the students to adults and other guests who enter the space. The artist, Maria Schirmer, has been exploring the transformative power of articulating wishes and translating them into artwork. She knew the mural would be about wishing, but was unsure what direction the students would take it. 

Brainstorming and design workshops began with the central question, “what do you wish people knew about you?”  Students then did round robin brainstorming, answering these questions: 

  1. What do you wish people coming into JDC knew about you? (Your family, visitors, judges, law enforcement, social workers, etc)
  2. What do you wish people knew about you?
  3. Who or what could make your wish come true?
  4. What is your biggest wish? Something that maybe seems impossible…
Dane County Juvenile Detention Center mural residency with Maria Schirmer Devitt

Students then made “wishes on a stick” - transforming donated trophies into their own wishing talismans.

Trophy "wish" talismans created by students in Dane County Juvenile Detention Center

 

Rod Wave Inspiration:

In between workshops, students discussed their inspirations, and who they feel understands what it is like to be a young person in the court system. Unanimously, this particular group of students felt inspired by the musician Rod Wave, whose music talks about the fear and loneliness of being in a juvenile detention facility, heartache, and dreams of being powerful. The students particularly loved his 2022 album Beautiful Mind: the color blocking of the cover design, the power and vulnerability in his lyrics, and how the background of the cover has a secret message - what look like sound waves are actually roller coasters - which resonated with their own lives. We discussed how we could show the ups and downs of life without copying his exact cover - the students came up with heartbeats. The group shared some of their favorite Rod Wave lyrics and discussed how they resonated with their own lives. 

favorite Rod Wave lyrics chosen by students at Dane County Juvenile Detention Center

Students made individual self portraits and practiced the technique of color blocking using watercolors. The photos for their self portraits were taken during a Bubbler podcasting session with Dee Star.

Rod Wave's "Beautiful Mind" album cover was inspired the students to create their own version for the mural project
watercolor blocking workshop with Maria Schirmer at Juvenile Detention Center
color blocking workshop inspired by Rod Wave album "Beautiful Mind"

 

Painting the mural: 

Participation in the mural could take several forms - students could help paint, they could work on their own art or poetry, or they could ask us questions from a question deck designed to bring out meaningful discussions. Stories are the building blocks of relationships, and these cards helped students get to know one another and share their wishes for their lives and the world. 

We would often start the sessions with reading aloud children’s books about wishing. Watch the video below to get a glimpse into some of the workshops.

Spectrum News covers the mural project at Dane County Juvenile Detention Center

ABOVE: Watch Spectrum News interview participants during the project.

 

Listening to music while painting the mural is always key! To keep up the energy and participation we created a collaborative playlist - we could listen to the playlist if we were all engaged - and we’d turn it off if we didn’t have full group participation. 

After we finished painting the imagery, we screen printed the students initials on the mural and then proceeded to write the wishes in the background. 

Finally, it was important for the students to use their own words and their own handwriting to share their wishes with adults in their lives. The wishes are deep and truthful, reflecting the inner range of their desires and dreams, and how the gaze of the world can be harsh and unforgiving. May their wishes open your eyes and your heart. 

Student at Dane County Juvenile Detention Center writing their wish on new mural at public entrance to facility.

Collection of Wishes: 

  • I wish you weren’t scared of me 
  • I wish I felt safe in my house
  • I wish there were safe places for kids to hang out 
  • I wish there were other places for us than JDC for our mistakes 
  • How big can you dream if you knew you couldn’t fail 
  • I would give my mom a house in the Chicago suburbs
  • If i could wish for anything i would wish for money so that i could break it down and give it to the people i be with
  • I want to be a rapper and tell people about my life 
  • I want people to know what I’ve been through
  • I want people to feel a range of emotions when they listen to me
  • I’m not like this on the regular 
  • I want to get rich so I can get my mom in a better place 
  • I didn’t hurt anyone 
  • I didn’t mean to hurt anyone 
  • I mean well 
  • I wish I had a car for every day of the week 
  • I want to set an example for my kids when I become a parent and don’t give them any reason to run 
  • I wish I could be the dictator of the world and get all the money and then give it back so everyone has the same income. 
  • I want to send one thousand people to the moon. 
  • I want to build a big statue of ME! 
  • I wish people knew that I like to read. 
  • I wish you knew that I am a good parent. 
  • I wish you knew that I shouldn’t be here 
  • I wish you knew that I am not a criminal 
  • I wish you knew that I am open minded 
  • I wish you knew that I am a child of GOD. 
  • I wish you knew that I can make a fast beat. 
  • I wish you knew that we ain that bad 
  • How big can you dream if you new you couldn’t fail 
  • Hope he becomes who he wanna be
  • I don’t like to wish, you grind until you become. 
  • I know that I ain't perfect, but you know that I'm worth it.
  • I wish you knew I’m brilliant 
  • I wish you knew I was a good kid
  • I wish you cared as much as I do 
  • I wish you could see my potential 
  • I wish you knew I’m good at baseball 
  • I wish you knew I want to score a touchdown in the NFL
  • I wish you knew I am a good parent 
  • I do not like to wish, you grind until you become 
  • I wish there was less gun violence 
  • I wish there were safe places for kids to hangout 
  • I wish you knew I’m trying 
  • I wish you didn’t look at me different 
  • I wish people knew I like to read 
  • I wish you knew I’m not a delinquent 
  • I wish you knew I’m not a bad kid, I made a bad decision. 
  • I wish you knew I want to keep in touch with my inner self. 
  • I wish you knew my charges are not ME! 
  • I wish you knew I have a youtube channel 
  • I wish you knew I like to swim

 

Poem written during the mural project (by student M):

WHILE WE WAIT
While we wait to hear the hard slam of a door behind us 
While we wait for the longest short walk down the beige hall
While we wait for piercing eyes to stare as their gaze feel like a blade giving us deep cuts to the skin
While we wait laying under the raggedy hole-filled sheets looking up at the ceiling as if our freedom will appear from thin air 
While we wait tossin’ and turnin’ unable to sleep just hoping that tomorrow comes early 
So the next time you're in the back of a squad car 
Just remember, while you wait 
For what wait awaits you 
That this is what awaits you 
While we wait 
While we wait 
Artist Maria Schirmer standing next to the blank wall at the public entrance to Dane County Juvenile Detention Center
Artist Maria Schirmer at the public entrance to the Juvenile Detention Center before and after the mural project residency.
Artist Maria Schirmer standing next to the completed mural at the public entrance to Dane County Juvenile Detention Center

 

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Rod Wave says:

I know that I ain't perfect, but I know that I'm worth it.