Site Unseen: Incarceration

Maureen MurdockArt and Creativity, Criminal Justice System7 Comments

Site Unseen: Incarceration is a gallery show curated by Sheila Pinkel, Emerita Professor of Art, Pomona College, to highlight the realities and challenges confronting incarcerated people. The exhibit at Los Angeles Valley College displays the work of 7 incarcerated individuals as well as 7 non-incarcerated people who use a variety of approaches to create consciousness about incarceration in the United States. Over 1% of the U.S. population is imprisoned.

Most of the inmates whose work is included in the exhibit are either in solitary confinement or on death row in a California prison. The exhibit was mounted to stimulate dialogue about incarceration among faculty, students and the public. Today prisons are the largest containers for the mentally ill and Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles is considered the largest mental institution in the U.S.

Formerly incarcerated people who have served their time have difficulty finding work, health care, and access to transportation, cannot get food stamps, live in public housing and cannot vote in California until after they are off parole which lasts for three years. The lack of rehabilitation programs and job training in prison to help with re-entry has resulted in a 70% recidivism rate in California.

Artwork by Jack L. MorrisI have included some of the artwork exhibited by Jack L. Morris, an inmate in solitary confinement in Pelican Bay State Prison. When he first started doing art in prison there was no access to art supplies so he used peanut butter as a medium, color created from medicine pills and M & M’s candy coating, brushes made from the mustache hair of inmates shaving and the backs of envelopes, sheets, or torn covers off books for paper. Since the 2012 Hunger Strike, he has been able to purchase paper, colored pens and pastels. Imagine what he could do if there was a rehabilitation program that involved art.

7 Comments on “Site Unseen: Incarceration”

  1. Outstanding summary and quite an image: Beauty in this slow sickness wanting freedom before absolute fossils

  2. Wow! I can’t even imagine how difficult it must be to create art under those circumstances. We need a much more open minded idea about rehabilitating folks in prison using therapy, art, education, and more. Thanks for letting us know what goes on for the talented artists struggling inside.

  3. Just one more very sad thing that exists in the USA–and the world as well. Thanks for telling about the art work and the exhibit–it is good to be aware even though I feel useless to help in any way.

  4. Maureen, this is extremely moving. The sadness I feel in my soul from the stories you are bringing feels necessary. Thank you so much for what you do to give voice to those who can’t speak so freely to us.This artwork is something I am grateful to see, what it communicates with what strength.

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