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Indigenous offenders in Australia find new life in art

Pioneering prison program aims to foster pride and creativity among country's Aboriginal population

Graham Gilbert, one of the artists involved with The Torch program. (Courtesy of The Torch)

MELBOURNE -- Graham Gilbert will soon spend around four weeks in a prison in suburban Melbourne. Gilbert, who grew up in rural New South Wales and is a member of the Australian Aboriginal Wiradjuri group, spent much of his adult life in the criminal justice system. But when he returns to prison this time, it will be entirely voluntary.

Gilbert, along with three other artists, also former prisoners, has been commissioned to paint a mural measuring nearly 7 meters. All are participants in a program run by The Torch, a nonprofit organization that supports current and former indigenous offenders to develop their artistic skills and get their lives back on track. It is just one of the opportunities Gilbert has gained through the program, which he joined several years ago while still in jail.

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