Community-based Art Prison Arts Collective
Community-based Art Prison Arts Collective, collaborative mural at the California Institution for Men
Community-based Art Prison Arts Collective, "Last Supper (Life Magazine)" by S. Hunter
Community-based Art Prison Arts Collective, "Crucifixion" by E. Gonzalez
Community-based Art Prison Arts Collective,
Collaborative Flower Tree
Voices of Change: Part 2
March 1, 2016
CBA Prison Arts Collective (Participating Artists)
Open Letter about Art in Prison
To whom it may concern:
As an inmate who has served 28 years and struggled with addictions, anger problems, and criminal thinking, I want to share with you how art has changed my life.
There was time in my life where I didn’t believe I could make it through the day without getting high. I really believed that I needed drugs to cope with everyday problems. I struggled with feelings of inadequacies, very low self-esteem, no sense of self worth, and I was angry at the world. I didn’t feel like I fit in, had no communication skills, and was awkward in social settings. I just didn’t feel like I belonged so would isolate myself from others. Growing up I suffered every abuse imaginable: extreme neglect, domestic violence, alcohol and substance abuse.
I have completed in excess of twenty self-help groups, therapy programs, and counseling. However, the one thing that completely changed my life was learning art. Learning how to draw and paint is what gave me the strength and courage to stop using drugs. This was the pivotal point that allowed me to feel differently about myself and others. It gave me a voice, a way to connect with myself and others. I read an art book once that taught me about my “internal dialogue,” and how I was communicating with myself. It showed me how to be more productive, instead of being critical towards myself. It helped me to teach people who I never could have reached otherwise; I have helped gang members, drug addicts, alcoholics, and once violent criminals to turn their lives around by teaching them how to paint beautiful pictures for their loved ones, often reconnecting and mending broken relationships.
The Role Art Has Played in My Life:
* Increased my sense of self worth and self-esteem. Helped me realize that I could create something that others and myself could enjoy looking at, something of value.
* I finally had found an activity that I really enjoyed. I was excited to wake up every morning to paint or draw. I never imagined I could experience so much happiness and satisfaction with a pencil and paper—and so much more with paint, paintbrush and canvas.
* I could be spontaneous in creating instead of impulsive in my behavior.
* I had an interest in learning more, which helped me to enjoy reading and searching for more knowledge about art.
* I was able to feel like I finally fit in with others. I had something to share and contribute.
* I found I could share art with my loved ones, which brought us closer as a family.
* It taught me patience and how to work through frustration.
* I learned about my internal dialog through painting; understanding the conversation I was having with my self helped me to focus on positive healthy thoughts.
* Giving a painting to someone that brought about a sense of healing for them is beyond words. It really touches my heart in a profound way.
* I was able to learn more about my emotions as certain colors actually bring about certain feelings like harmony, conflict, warmth, and coldness.
* Painting and drawing taught me how to plan ahead and establish short- and long-term goals.
* Painting and drawing helped to create teamwork and learn about other cultures.
* When I become angry painting calms me down. When I become lonely, painting comforts me. When I become confused, Painting brings me clarity. When I experience painful emotions, painting helps me re-connect to positive emotions.
* Art helped me to become a better machinist, thinking in 3-dimensional terms and being able to mentally rotate shapes in my mind.
* I learned about values in painting as well as values in my life.
* I learned about perspective in painting, as well as perspective in life.
* I was able to contribute to my environment by teaching others and by placing paintings in offices, on the yards, chapels, prison entrances, and throughout the community.
Wings of Imagination
Since I was a kid, my imagination was all I had to feel special. With my imagination, I am free to fly high in the sky with wings of hope, freely flying over mountains and through clouds without fearing the heavy grip of gravity. I could also be an important person who does not live in poverty, freely giving to those in need. Unfortunately I lost my freedom to fly when I entered the life of crime. My wings vanished and I turned into a prisoner of criminal behavior. This decision led me down the negative road, aimlessly hurting others. Eventually, this lifestyle led me to crash in a prison cell. However, CSU San Bernardino provided the key to unlock the magical doors to the imagination I’ve always cherished through the art program.
The pilot art program established at the California Institution for Men (CIM), Facility C, has allowed me the opportunity to experience a variety of arts. First, I was introduced to printmaking in 2013. Printmaking was fun because I got the chance to design my own art utilizing my imagination. Then I joined the creative writing class. This class gave me the freedom to express myself in a creative way, which allowed other inmates to get to know me. After the creative writing class, I decided to learn art history, art critique, and a curator’s class. I learned valuable knowledge about the importance of art. For example, in art history, I learned that Pablo Picasso’s art represents a movement for Cubism and later abstract art. The knowledge intertwined with my imagination has made a remarkable impact in my life.
After actively participating in the art program since it’s inception, I was given the privilege of becoming a co-instructor to teach a craft I acquired in juvenile hall: Tissue Paper flowers. This awesome opportunity allows me to share my skill with other inmates. Now my fellow inmates have a skill that provides them the opportunity to gift a beautiful tissue paper flower to their loved ones. Also, the opportunity to be a co-instructor gives me teaching experience that I can use upon my release. For example, I now have the skills to volunteer or participate with arts and crafts program to help at-risk youth gain a skill. The most important benefit of being a co-instructor is the opportunity to give back to my community in prison, and eventually, upon my release. With this opportunity I pass on an important message: change is possible, especially through art.
I am grateful to have an art program here at CIM Facility C because it gives every inmate the opportunity to use their imagination by participating either in a creative writing class, print-making, painting, or my flower-making workshop. My fellow inmates now have a safe place to explore our creative side. Giving back as a co-instructor gives me back the wings of hope to fly like I once did as a kid. The difference now is that this is a real experience, not merely an imaginary one.
S. Hunter is an artist that found his path while incarcerated in California. He taught himself to paint and has been honing his technique over the past thirty years. In addition to his own dedication to painting, he teaches drawing and painting to others. He was also instrumental in supporting fellow inmates in requesting an art program and remains a vital part of the CSUSB Community-based Art program at the California Institution for Men in Chino.
E. Gonzalez is an artist and writer that found his voice and vision while incarcerated. He has participated in CSUSB Community-based Art at the state prison in Chino since 2013 as a student, co-teacher, and mentor to fellow inmates interested in growing their art practices.
To read from teaching artists in Community-based Art, please see Part 1.