"We related to him right away because his name's Dillinger," said Michael, laughing along with his fellow inmates at the Montgomery County Detention Center.
Jack Dillinger, a Washington area artist and teacher, may or may not be a distant kin of the famous criminal, John Dillinger.
"There are not many Dillingers, not with that "spelling," says Jack, whick, incidentally, is short for Jackson, not John. "And I do come from Missouri. But it's vague - the fourth cousin or so."
Iowa, which is right next door to Missouri, was among the Midwestern states where the outlaw operated.
Last fall, Jack Dillinger began teaching the first college-level art course to be offered at the detention center on Seven Locks Road in Rockville. About 20 inmates took the course, which is part of the academic program available at the center.
Some of the work produced in Dillinger's art couse will be on view next week when the fifth Seven Locks Detention Center Art Shows opens Wednesday in the cafeteria of the Montgomery County Office Building, 100 Maryland Ave., Rockville. The monthlong exhibit will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and will include work by center inmates.
All work at the exhibit, which is being sponsored for the first time by the Montgomery County Recreation Department, will be for sale. The money will go to the inmate artists, who can use it in the detention center's canteen.
The academic program at the detention center began three years ago when Montgomery College joined with the center to provide courses, free of charge, to the inmates.
Dillinger, who teaches art at Montgomery College and the University of Maryland, said the challenge of teaching in a detention center appealed to him, but, he added, "I couldn't possibly anticipate what it would be like."
Just the physical procedure of getting into the center was unexpected. Bedause the class was taught in the inmates' living area, Dillinger had to go through three gates to reach the students.
"You get charged up for a class," he said, "and that steps you down - standing there to wait for the guards."
Dillinger also had to limit the kinds of materials the sudents used - no glass bottles of rubber cement, no brushes with pointed ends - because they could be used as weapons.
"Even though you can't imagine anyone in class doing it - because I got to know them as friends - still, you know it can happen," said Dillinger. "This was a brand new experience. There was an attitude - these are people who are being carefully watched."
The limited environment meant finding different ways of teaching art. In drawing exercises, the inmates were not able to use models or nature observation, so Dillinger told his students to use their own fantasies for idea.
"I didn't try to be a psychiatrist," he said. "You have a storehouse in your mind. If you think about that it will improve your observations, help you to tune up, so to speak."
To create an environment of art, Dillinger brought in examples of paintings and drawings and textures. The illustrations ranged from drawings by famous artists such as Durer to smples of various wood grains.
"Those prisoners were on my mind more than any of my other students," said Dillinger. "There were many some people so hungry for someone to take an interest. They would haul out peoms, stories and want me to stay for lunch. I had no sense of danger. I felt very comfortable and I never hurried out of there."
Several prisoners found Dillinger's interest a major factor in helping them learn about art.
"He took the class on as a personal thing rather than as a job," said Steve, one of the inmates, whose last names are being withheld.
"He'd bring in pieces of art when the class first started," said William. "I had no idea what I was looking at. I had always avoided art. I'd ask him, 'What makes this special?' I still have little, if any ability for art but I can appreciate it now."
"He gives you a little confidence in yourself - not that you're a Renoir," agreed Michael.
"Each person, I think, develops a lot of feelings. Art reflects those fellings," said Joe. "It's like when you look in a mirror and see something that's you, but art's a mirror that goes beyond the surface."