Jon Treece has always believed he wasn’t good enough.
The 38-year-old, who was born and raised in Flint, Mich., but has lived in Alexandria the last couple of years, said he hasn’t lived a good life.
He’s spent plenty of his adult life in and out of jail and is currently in the Douglas County Jail booked on drug charges.
Art has been an outlet for Treece and while in the Stillwater prison awhile back, he participated in an art program. At the time, though, he said he wasn’t wholeheartedly into it but he did learn a few things.
When he got out, he became a tattoo artist. However, his artistry never really went anywhere because once again, he didn’t believe he had any talents.
But that is slowly changing as he is spending his time in the Douglas County Jail.
“It has always been in my head that I wasn’t good enough,” said Treece. “It’s always been a battle and something I am working on.”
Staff, specifically the jail programmers who have been working with Treece, noticed his artistic talents and provided him an interesting canvas to showcase his abilities.
They let him paint murals within the walls of the programming space – two in the recreation area and one in the meeting room/classroom area.
According to Nicole Torgrimson, one of the jail programmers, Treece started and finished the first painting in February, had the second one completed in March, and the third one was finished in May. She said he was allowed to experiment with different effects and colors until he was happy with it. If he didn't quite know how to get a particular look, he would watch videos to get ideas.
"All the murals looked a little different each day we came in to work," said Torgrimson. "It was an amazing process to witness."
The paintings are exceptionally detailed and all come from the heart with each drawing having special meaning for Treece.
The main images in his first mural are of Big Ole and a Viking ship sailing over rough water with tumultuous looking clouds in the background. But there is also a clock, a tree with Treece sitting under it, a caterpillar and butterfly, the Kensington runestone with his own runes on it and the words, “Douglas County Programs, where change starts!”
“This painting explains the changes I’ve made mentally and physically,” said Treece. “I closed my eyes and prayed for inspiration and saw it in my mind. Painting is always what I’ve wanted to do, but never thought I was good enough. And nobody has ever told me to just go ahead and do it.”
The second mural with its roses, stairs leading up to heaven, rosary, cross and Treece on his knees reaching up to God, was painted for one of his teachers he had during the Residents Encountering Christ Retreat, an event the jail does twice a year. He said the retreat changed his life.
Douglas County Jail Administrator Jackie Notch said the REC Retreat really changes a lot of inmates. There are about 40-50 volunteers who help, many of whom are local.
“The REC Retreat is a complete spiritual rebirth for many of these guys,” said Notch, noting that it was for Treece.
The most detailed mural, which took him about three or four weeks to complete, depicts “The Story of Two Wolves.”
An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego.”
He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
A long journey to change
Treece explained the details of each of three murals and what the meaning behind the paintings were for him.
In the painting with Big Ole, there is a clock above the door off to the left and the hands are at 1:45 p.m. There is also a ribbon with the words “Time for change.” When he was doing this painting, one of the jail programmers commented, asking Treece about when he was going to start changing his life. Treece asked him what time it was and it was 1:45 p.m. so he answered and said, “Right now,” and 1:45 p.m. is what time he painted on the clock.
As for Big Ole, Treece said because the statue is synonymous with Alexandria, he had to include him. However, the wording on Big Ole’s shield was changed from “Birthplace of America” to “Birthplace of Recovery.” The reason, he said, is because the time spent inside the Douglas County Jail is where his road to recovery truly began. It is the place where people have believed in him and where he has been given a true chance.
Throughout his paintings, Treece uses Latin words and phrases that have special meaning for him.
In that same painting, constellations can be seen in the sky and are the exact constellations that were in the northern hemisphere sky looking to the south on the day he was arrested in Alexandria – Nov. 19.
The runes on the stone in the Big Ole painting are not the originals. Treece researched runes and how to write them. The overall meaning behind the runes he drew, he said, is something he has kept to himself but that in essence, it says that freedom is a state of mind.
Overall, the mural to Treece means that he’s been on a long journey through a lot of storms but that he has now been given a gift and that he realized that change is possible.
The tale of two sides
The mural that depicts the story of the two wolves shows one side that is dark and dismal and has negative connotations with the other side being brighter, more vibrant with a more positive outlook.
Treece said the dark side includes Mount St. Helens erupting, a dilapidated church, clouds, lightning and a tombstone with his name on it, which represents his old self dying.
The brighter side shows Mount Rainier, which he said represents a more alive feeling. It also includes the same church but in much better shape, a phoenix rising out of the hand of an old Cherokee man who is sitting by a young boy, along with beautiful trees and a rainbow.
The phoenix, he said, of course represents his rebirth. And the rainbow was for one of the jail programmers who thought it would be cool for him to add a rainbow to his painting.
In the middle of the two halves is a Cherokee woman scooping water from the river that flows between the halves. As he is an aquarius, he had to add the water detail.
Situated on the river, also between the two sides is an archway with the Latin phrase “Me Bello,” which he said means “My battle.” The archway, he said, is a representation of him coming to a certain point in his life and the unveiling of his new self.
“I like to tell the story with paint,” said Treece, who added that he was thankful for the staff, especially the programmers, who not only believe in him, but provided him this outlet and gave him the chance to showcase his talents.
Although Treece doesn’t know when his time will be up at the jail as his case is working through the system, he would eventually love to own his own custom painting business. He would love to be able to paint murals for businesses.
He actually has done some work at businesses, including Common Grounds Coffee House in Alexandria, along with West Central Community Action offices in Elbow Lake and Alexandria.
“This is what I have always wanted to do,” he said.
Notch said it has been fun to watch the progress of Treece’s paintings.
Prior to Treece starting on the paintings, Notch said the jail programmers asked her if he could do them. They told her that through some of the drawings they saw of his, that he was a really good artist and said he wanted to paint the murals.
“They saw the talent he had and wanted to give him a chance,” said Notch.
She asked that he sketch out what he wanted to do so that she could approve it and after seeing it, gave him the go ahead.
“Watching the progression of it was incredible,” she said. “When he did the tombstone and put his name on it, it sent shivers down my spine.”