Ex-prisoner tells her story through art

Lynda Gardner shows her artwork at her New London home/Tracy Simmons - CreedibleNEW LONDON — Black ink tells her story.

Birds soaring through the air and wings protecting a small child; her drawings bring Psalm 36:7 to life.

Her stepfather would hit her and touch her in ways too disturbing to print. It was during those times that Lynda Gardner took refuge under the shadow of God’s wings. He would lift her to the sky, and together they would fly over houses and look down on joyful families eating dinner together.

“When I was on the bed, I blocked it out,” she says, “I was a bird. I was flying. That’s how I survived.”

God, she says, took her spirit somewhere safe when her stepfather would attack.

For more than 50 years Gardner ignored the pain her step dad caused her, even though the cigarette burns that scarlvred her arms stared back at her everyday, reminding her of the abuse she endured for so long. (She later wrote about her experience in Wally Lamb’s, I’ll Fly Away).

Gardner, who was raised in Litchfield, put her energy into taxiing her five children around and working to support them after she and her husband had divorced. But when the kids grew up and moved out of the house, Gardner was left to her own thoughts and the pain took over.

That’s when she discovered gambling. At 50 years old, someone gifted her a day of fun at one of Connecticut’s grandest casinos.

At first, she was in awe. The sparkling colors, the arcade-like sounds of the machines, the smell of freshly baked goods wafting through the air – Gardner loved it. She couldn’t take her eyes off the striking statue in the entryway at Mohegan Sun. The games brought her a renewed sense of excitement.

She liked it so much, she went back the next day. And the next.A sample of Lynda Gardner's artwork/Tracy Simmons - Creedible

“I went there, and I never left,” Gardner says.

Before she knew it, she stopped seeing the dazzling colors and hearing the loud sounds she was once so amazed by.  She only saw green. She became a high roller, given a complimentary suite at the hotel. But she needed money to play with. So she sold her belongings one by one – even her 1985 Jaguar. Not a scratch on it, she called it her baby. She sold her mother’s jewelry.

She sold everything.

She lost everything, even the baby photos of her children. But she would get it all back – she knew it. So she did cocaine to stay awake. She knew they changed the machines around 3 a.m. and wanted to be there to have the first chance at them.

She lost even more and took what she needed from another person.

“I was like a dog chasing that rabbit it will never catch,” she says.

But Gardner, who now has nine grandchildren, got caught and was sentenced to 15 years at York Correctional Institute. She was 56 years old.

At first she thought her life was over.

“I was dead,” she says.

Finally, though, she got accepted into various certificate programs and learning became her new addiction.

When a friend approached her to take an art class at York, Gardner refused. She didn’t even know how to draw a stick figure. But her friend didn’t concede.

“You get a pen,” she said alluringly.

Intrigued, Gardner enrolled. She was sick of using pencils and admits she took the class only so she could grasp a pen.

“Just draw lines,” Gardner’s teacher said, “and see what happens.”

Gardner went with it, and today her drawings are selling for as high as $750.

She was released in October of 2009 after serving a 5-year sentence. Her art has since been on display at Wesleyan University and will soon be on display at the Public Library of New London. She’s also performed in solo plays at Wesleyan and has painted backdrops for the theater department.

“I have to be a voice for women in prison. Everyone there has a story,” she says. “It took prison for me to come alive again.”

That’s why she’s not afraid to tell her story and to tell people that incarcerated women are human beings who made a mistake and just need some help.

She’s an active member of Faith Fellowship in New London, where she goes every Tuesday night to pray for the friends she left behind at York. The pastors there Jean and Peter V.A. Knapp got to know Gardner through their prison ministry.

“What I see in her more than anything is commitment, faithfulness and persistence in her to want to make this work,” Jean said. “She’s doing great and there are some character qualities in her that I really respect.  Regardless of what anybody does around her, she knows what she wants to do and she sticks to it and that’s very, very good.”

While at York, Gardner also got involved with Chrysalis, a women’s prison ministry. She met Rev. Valerie Dixon there, and said with the counseling of Jean and Dixon, she saw the light and found hope again.

“Lynda was definitely a pretty sad case a lot of the time we knew her there,” Dixon said. “Now when you see her she’s full of joy and power and energy. There were times when she couldn’t get out of bed and that’s not case right now.”

Art, Dixon said, has become Gardner’s outlet. Her story is no longer trapped inside her, it’s on the canvas.

You can see for yourself when her art goes on display at the New London library next month. The exhibit will be the third week of July.

If you enjoyed this article, please consider making a donation to Creedible by sending a donation through PayPal to
// <![CDATA[
// <![CDATA[
// <![CDATA[
// <![CDATA[
var prefix = 'ma' + 'il' + 'to';
var path = 'hr' + 'ef' + '=';
var addy25213 = 'advertising' + '@';
addy25213 = addy25213 + 'creedible' + '.' + 'com';
document.write( '‘ );
document.write( addy25213 );
document.write( ‘
‘ );
//n
// –>
// ]]>
advertising@creedible.com
// <![CDATA[
// <![CDATA[
var prefix = 'ma' + 'il' + 'to';
var path = 'hr' + 'ef' + '=';
var addy27898 = 'advertising' + '@';
addy27898 = addy27898 + 'creedible' + '.' + 'com';
var addy_text27898 = '

var prefix = ‘ma’ + ‘il’ + ‘to’;
var path = ‘hr’ + ‘ef’ + ‘=’;
var addy84176 = ‘advertising’ + ‘@’;
addy84176 = addy84176 + ‘creedible’ + ‘.’ + ‘com’;
document.write( ‘‘ );
document.write( addy84176 );
document.write( ‘
‘ );
//n
// –>
// ]]>
// <![CDATA[
// <![CDATA[
document.write( '‘ );
// ]]>
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
// <![CDATA[
// <![CDATA[
document.write( '’ );
// ]]>
or by calling (203) 278-4214.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s