Carole Alden is a self-taught sculptor/visual artist. During her thirteen years incarcerated, she continued to develop her artistic skills. Since her release in 2019, she is using her art to address the institutional disparities that victims of domestic violence face when they defend themselves.
American Artist is an interdisciplinary artist whose work considers black labor and visibility within networked life. Their practice makes use of video, installation, new media, and writing. American Artist’s legal name change serves as the basis of an ambivalent practice—one of declaration: by insisting on blackness as descriptive of an American artist, and erasure: anonymity in virtual spaces where “American Artist” is an anonymous name, unable to be validated by a computer as a person’s name.
Gil Batle spent two decades in California prisons on drug and forgery charges. He has made art as far back as he can remember, during and after prison.
Mary Enoch Elizabeth Baxter
Mary Enoch Elizabeth Baxter, also known by her hip-hop name “Isis Tha Saviour,” is an award winning Philadelphia based artist who creates socially conscious music, film and visual art through an autobiographical lens. Although it has been a decade since her release from a Pennsylvania prison, Mary’s time spent on the inside continues to shape the direction of her music and film work. Her entertaining but poignant works offer a critical perspective on the particular challenges women of color face when they become immersed in the criminal justice system. Ms. Baxter is also 2018 and 2019 Mural Arts Philadelphia Reimagining Reentry Fellow and a 2019 Leeway Foundation Transformation Awardee.
Sara Bennett photographs currently and formerly incarcerated women in New York State prisons, focusing on women sentenced to life. Her photographs document what it means to experience life as punishment, not by focusing on the everyday cruelties of prisons but on the strategies and practices of women to sustain life under such harsh conditions. Before she began taking pictures of imprisoned women, Bennett worked as a public defender for 18 years, advocating often for women who had survived abuse. Her work has been widely exhibited and featured in such publications as The New York Times, The New Yorker Photo Booth, and Variety & Rolling Stone’s “American (In)Justice.”
My name is Conor Broderick. I am 36 years old and I am from a small island town north of Seattle. Art has saved my life within the confines of my journey through the justice system. I was inspired to pick up a paintbrush by all the artists in my family, my grandfather (whose work impelled me to learn watercolor painting first), my parents, my aunts and uncles and creatively expressive cousins. I was forced to pick up the paintbrush, because I had no other way to express myself in such an oppressive environment. To me, artwork is far more than simply an introspective subjective reflection; it should be the understanding of why and how the artist created. Visual art, more than any other method, has the abilities to reach out and effect, without any warning, breaking stereotypes, prejudgments, and overcoming people’s subconscious social barriers.
Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick
Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick were born and raised in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans. As a husband and wife team, they have been documenting Louisiana and its people for more than three decades. The body of work they call Slavery, The Prison Industrial Complex began in 1980 and serves as both a historical record and testimony of life at Angola State Penitentiary, also called The Farm. Angola is an 18,000-acre prison farm where imprisoned people are traded like chattel among wardens of neighboring penitentiaries. Although the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution abolished slavery in 1865, its prohibition of forced labor does not apply to convicted people.
Daniel McCarthy Clifford
Daniel McCarthy Clifford is an interdisciplinary artist making work about institutions. He explores prisons and schools as entry points to broader conversations about social control, race, class, and sexuality. Research into the justice system and his experiences in that system are backdrops for works that question the national narrative and the functions of America’s institutions. Using humor and elements of performance, he engages directly with institutions by appropriating correspondence between individuals held captive by or working for institutions and himself. He earned a BA in art history and BFA in sculpture at the University of New Mexico, and received an MFA from the University of Minnesota in 2018.
Tameca Cole is a visual artist and writer from Birmingham, Alabama. She also performs with the abolitionist arts organization, Die Jim Crow. Cole’s art has been featured in Art in America, Artforum, ArtNews, Momus, The Nation, and The New York Times. While inside, she re-discovered her abilities as an artist. Using the spare supplies available, she created collages that were both political and personal. “My pain and struggles are just one of the inspirations I draw upon to create. My goal is to express the human condition in a way that enables the audience to see that we are all simply human.”
Larry Cook is a conceptual artist whose work spans installation, video, and photography. Cook received his MFA from George Washington University and has exhibited his work nationally at the National Portrait Gallery (2019), The National Gallery of Art (2017), and the Baltimore Museum of Art (2016). Cook was awarded the 2020 Nicholson Project Artist in Residency. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Photography at Howard University.
Russell Craig is a painter from Philadelphia, now living in New York City. He is the co-founder of Right of Return USA, the first national fellowship dedicated to supporting formerly incarcerated artists. A self-taught artist who survived nearly a decade of incarceration after growing up in the foster care system, Craig creates art as a means to explore the experience of over-criminalized communities and to reassert agency after a lifetime of institutional control. His work has been featured in Artforum, ArtNews, Momus, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Washington Post, Artsy, The Guardian, and The New York Times. Craig is an alumni of Mural Arts Philadelphia’s Restorative Justice Guild program, a 2017 Right of Return Fellow, and a 2018 Ford Foundation Art for Justice Fellow.
I am a Superpredator. After being sentenced to life in prison at the age of 16, this is the title that I was given and fought hard to denounce. Held in a cage for 22 years, I began crafting my personal method of artistic expression to find some sense of peace in a hopeless place before my resurrection back into the “real” world. As an artist, I use photography, poetry, and spoken word to further my radical love revolution. Transcribing my poetry directly onto imagery, in a genre I self-describe as ‘PhotoPoetry’, I am dedicated to the now archaic practice of handwriting.
Maria Gaspar is an interdisciplinary artist whose work addresses issues of spatial justice in order to amplify, mobilize, or divert structures of power through individual and collective gestures. Gaspar’s projects have been supported by the Art for Justice Fund, the Robert Rauschenberg Artist as Activist Fellowship, the Creative Capital Award, among others. She is Associate Professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, holds an MFA from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and a BFA from Pratt Institute.
Dean Gillispie grew up in southwest Ohio. As a child, he enjoyed building miniatures and train sets, what he calls tinkering. When he was 24, he was convicted and sentenced for crimes he did not commit. He spent 20 years in prison before being released through the advocacy of his parents and the Ohio Innocence Project. While incarcerated, he created dozens of elaborate miniatures using materials he scavenged inside. He is now on the board of the Ohio Innocence Project and volunteers to help other formerly incarcerated people re-enter communities.
GisMo (Jessica Gispert & Crystal Pearl Molinary) was an artist collective active in the early 2000s. Their work explores tropes and gender roles within Latin-American subcultures. GisMo collaborated with Women On The Rise! created by Jillian Hernandez, which led to their working with incarcerated teen girls on a series of performative photographs exploring their dreams.
Ronnie Goodman was born and raised in San Francisco (SF). He was a self-taught artist, long-distance runner, and urban bicyclist. His love of art began at the age of six when he started drawing. Growing up in SF’s Fillmore neighborhood, he discovered his passion for jazz. Music was a recurrent theme throughout his creative work. Life’s journeys took him away from art, but he rediscovered it through the Arts In Corrections Program at San Quentin State Prison.
“There are times when I’ve actually wondered if any of my work would be receive or get any recognition. Now my spirit is renewed and I shall strive to maintain a high level of quality work now and in the future. My art is for the world to see, the wind blowing the trees. The perfection of beauty in one’s eyes, only you can see, frees me. I enjoy the peace I find when I’m doing art. I had been incarcerated for 45 years and am now a free man. I blend block printing with pointillism to create vivid portraits. My artwork has been featured in several exhibits and galleries including the Tides Thoreau Center for Sustainability (2015): On the Line: Artwork from San Quentin Prison Art Project at Jewett Gallery (2013); Rotunda Gallery, Hearst Art Gallery, Wamock Fine Arts Gallery among others. My piece, Restore Justice was recently featured in The Washington Post.”
“I have become an avid runner and painter since coming to prison. Running has maintained my physical health and art has enhanced my mental health. I hope through my art to help others visualize things differently than what they seem. You can be in prison wherever you are, it’s how you see it….beauty can be found anywhere…”
James Yaya Hough
James Yaya Hough, born and raised in Pittsburgh, is a contemporary artist and activist. His art interrogates issues of mass incarceration, U.S. history, race, violence, popular culture, and identity. He is currently the inaugural Artist-in-Residence for the City of Philadelphia’s District Attorney’s Office. His work has been featured in Artforum, Dissent Magazine, The New York Times, PBS NewsHour, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and Philadelphia Magazine.
Ashley Hunt is an artist, writer and teacher, who has dedicated the last 20 years of his art making to documenting the expansion of the U.S. prison system, its effects on communities, and how it continues the U.S.’s racial, economic and genocidal histories. Hunt works in dialogue and collaboration with movement building and grassroots organizations, including Critical Resistance, the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, Citizens for Quality Education, Southerners on New Ground, and Friends and Family of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children. His works have shown in community centers, prisons, and museums, including Pitzer Art Galleries, MoMA, Project Row Houses, the Hammer Museum, the Tate Modern, Documenta 12, and Sinopale Biennial in Turkey. Hunt lives in Los Angeles and teaches at CalArts.
Duron Jackson is a cross-disciplinary artist whose practice conflates academic and artistic research. He uses installation, photos, video archives, and objects to create new critical perspectives on dominant historical narratives. He received his MFA in Sculpture at Bard College, Milton Avery School of Art. Jackson is a 2013 recipient of the prestigious Fulbright research fellowship, granted by the U.S. State Department for creative research in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, where he was concurrently artist in residence at Museu de Arte Moderna da Bahia, and Museu AfroBrasil in São Paulo. Duron Jackson is a Newark, NJ resident.
Eddie Kates is an American Artist, who is currently incarcerated in New Jersey. What lies behind all of Kates’ images is the primacy of the social infrastructure. While enrolled in an art class through NJ STEP, a program that brings college courses into New Jersey prisons, Kates created a series of graphite drawings about the history of black captivity and subjugation based on archival photographs.
Jesse Krimes is a Philadelphia based artist and curator, and the co-founder of Right of Return USA, the first national fellowship dedicated to supporting formerly incarcerated artists. While serving a six-year prison sentence, Krimes produced and smuggled out numerous bodies of work exploring how contemporary media shapes or reinforces societal mechanisms of power and control. His work has been exhibited at Palais de Tokyo, The International Red Cross Museum, Zimmerli Art Museum, Aperture Gallery, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. He has been awarded fellowships from the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation’s “Artist as Activist,” the Independence Foundation, the Vermont Studio Center, the Art for Justice Fund, Captiva Residency, and Creative Capital.
Susan Lee-Chun focuses on the investigation of origin, meaning, and representation through the importance placed on mundane objects, ideas, and structures. She is fascinated with the prevalence and mass production of kitschy objects and ideas that represent and characterize the notion of the other. Lee-Chun was born in Seoul, Korea, and lives and works in Miami. Since studying at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2004, MA), she has exhibited widely, including Herning Kunstmuseum, Denmark; 2006 Vienna Biennale, Vienna, Austria; Pacific Asia Museum, Los Angeles, CA; Museum of Contemporary Art, Miami, FL; Miami Dade College’s Museum of Art + Design.
William B. Livingston III
“All my artistic inspiration comes from music. I have been completely consumed with music my entire life. So many years of my life devoted to sitting in a room, drinking whiskey and listening to records. Today I am more than 11 years sober. I still have the opportunity to listen to music and paint and not need the alcohol and drugs to do so. But today I do it from prison after accidentally killing someone while drunk driving.”
Mark Loughney is a Pennsylvania-based artist whose work confronts the underlying absurdity in our normalized systems. “My art practice is not about passing the time making pretty pictures. It is a response to being kicked into a mile wide river with a lot of rich beneficiaries at its mouth. It is a splash of muck from a drowning man, desperately flailing towards the nearest raft of ants. It’s a million of me. It’s 2.3 million of me as a I question how the hell is an American Prison the answer to anything. It is in spite of and not because of…. I have no choice in the matter. It is my reality. It is both my situation and my response to it… and it doesn’t get any realer than this.” He is represented by Woodstock Artist Collective (NY) and Arthaus Projects (PA).
Ojore Lutalo was released from Trenton State Penitentiary in 2009 after serving 28 years—22 of those years in solitary confinement because of his political beliefs and activism. In order to keep his sanity during his imprisonment, he abided by a strict regimen of physical exercise, meditation, and study. Over the years, he began creating collages as a way to maintain his sanity and to convey the physical and emotional reality he experienced in solitary confinement. While in isolation, Lutalo created a wide range of political art documenting his experience and the plight of other radical imprisoned activists, as well as techniques of psychological and physical torture used in solitary confinement units
“I am a muralist, activist, environmentalist, plastic abolitionist, lanimal plant lover, avid outdoors-person, fashion designer, chef, poet, writer, artist, lover of life, veteran, immigrant, and currently inmate alleged armed robber. My husband and best friend of 8 years was murdered a year and a half ago and the hole that it left in my chest caused me to develop some pretty suicidal tendencies and steer myself south bound in a dark spiral of despair, numbness, self-destitution, I don’t know. People write books about grief. How to deal with it, the steps of recovery, but who really knows one’s own heart but yourself. It’s got to heal on its own. I’m headed back up towards the light brighter than before. I want to be as proactive as possible about issues I believe in to contribute as much as possible with my ideas, artwork, writing, speaking, love, and expression.”
George Anthony Morton
George Anthony Morton creates deeply personal work that embodies the constant interplay between opposites. He is the product of the “war on drugs” that deeply scarred the African American community. For his first offense, Morton was incarcerated from the age of 19 to 29 for a simple possession. During this dark time, Morton found his inner light and passionately developed his artistic ability. Upon release, he enrolled in the Florence Academy of Art, becoming the first African American to graduate. He was released early from parole, granting him access to study abroad and have his story documented in The New York Times. After graduating, Morton returned to Atlanta and opened Atelier South, which recently made front page of USA Today. Currently, he is working on a body of work that explores his earliest childhood experiences to his release from prison. These works are the impetus of his documentary that is currently in production
Lisette Oblitas works at the Society of Fellows and the Heyman Center for the Humanities at Columbia University, where she collaborates with the Center for Justice and the Justice-In-Education Initiative to provide higher educational opportunities for presently and formerly incarcerated people. Oblitas, a native of Peru, became a Columbia University Justice-In-Education scholar in 2016. As a visual artist, Oblitas, along with 14 other women, created Shared Dining, a collaborative art piece inspired by Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party (1979). Shared Dining was exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum, the American Visionary Art Museum, and the Maier Museum of Art. Oblitas has participated in numerous programs and exhibitions on art and incarceration.
In December 1985 Ndume Olatushani was wrongly convicted for a murder committed in a state he had never visited. He spent the next twenty-eight years in maximum security prisons, twenty of those years were spent on death row. Two years into his imprisonment Ndume’s mother and eight year old niece were killed in a car accident. This was when he began to draw and taught himself to paint. Art allowed him to exist in a state of harmony and tranquility, in spite of being physically, wrongfully locked up. Ndume said, “I found freedom living in a 4×9 foot cell twenty-three hours of the day in the shadow of death.”
Ndume also became an avid reader while in imprisoned. He completed his GED while on death row, took some college courses, became a certified paralegal, and eventually worked as a law clerk in the prison law library helping others with their legal problems.
Jesse Osmun grew up in Vermont and developed an interest in making art in childhood, taking summer classes, and then photography and painting classes in college. Upon arriving in prison at The Federal Correctional Institution, Fort Dix, Osmun took a drawing class and was encouraged by Treacy Ziegler and others. In prison, he discovered his love of drawing and experimented with gouache, watercolor, pastels, colored pencils, and other media to express his rage, love, pain, sadness, spirituality, hope, and chaos within the dehumanizing confines of prison. Work as a missionary in Kenya and in the Peace Corps in South Africa influences what he creates. His artwork has been exhibited at Cornell, in Denver, and at Atlantic Cape Community College.
Jared Owens was born in Queens and raised in Rockland County, New York. His art practice started inside federal prison, where he taught himself how to draw, paint, and sculpt using “found” or discarded materials. While imprisoned, he mentored others and taught multiple disciplines, including ceramics, painting, and drawing. Since his release, he has continued to mentor and teach system-impacted young people. He is currently a fellow at Mural Arts Philadelphia and is working on a public art project for Philadelphia in partnership with youth under court supervision. His work has been featured in several exhibitions and publications, including Art Mag, Artforum, 4Columns, and Social Text.
Tyra Patterson works to dismantle injustice created and perpetuated by inequity, racism and greed. She currently works at the Ohio Justice & Policy Center where she serves as the Community Outreach Director. Tyra is also a public speaker, artist, social activist and Ambassador for Represent Justice.
Kenneth Reams a native of Arkansas, was born in 1974. At an early age, he exhibited artist talent; however growing up, he dismissed and undervalued his capabilities. It was not until he met his darkest moment in life – while incarcerated under solitary confinement on death row – that he appreciated the communicative, expressive power of art and recognized his own talents. In 2012, Reams began to nourish and develop his raw talent, using whatever he could get his hands on within prison walls to create art. His work has been shown in multiple venues throughout the U.S. and in Europe.
REENTRY THINK TANK
The REENTRY THINK TANK connects formerly incarcerated men and women with artists and advocates to transform the stereotypes, social services, and platforms that impact our lives and communities. As part of their ongoing work, Reentry Think Tank Fellows spent two years interviewing over 1200 Philadelphians with criminal records to create the country’s first Reentry Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights has been transformed into exhibitions, publications, and posters that have reached tens of thousands of people through exhibits in museums, government offices, galleries, prisons, universities, and legal clinics.
Rowan Renee explores how queer identity is mediated by the law. Their work addresses intergenerational trauma, gender-based violence, and the impact of the criminal justice system through image, text and installation. Their solo exhibitions include Z at Pioneer Works and Bodies of Wood at the Aperture Foundation. They have received awards from The Aaron Siskind Foundation, The Rema Hort Mann Foundation and The Harpo Foundation, as well as artist residencies from Red Bull Arts: Detroit and the McColl Center for Visual Art.
Gilberto Rivera Reyes was born in Puerto Rico and raised in Brooklyn. As a teen, he was a graffiti artist. Sentenced to 20 years at the age of 23, Rivera began to explore various artistic media and collaborate with other imprisoned artists. A few months after his release from prison in 2013, he lost one hand while on a construction site. He has continued to make art and explore new media. His work has been featured in Artforum, The Arts Fuse, Hyperallergic, The Nation, and The New York Times.
Sarah-Ji is a queer Korean mama, PIC abolitionist organizer, and photographer who has been documenting freedom struggles in Chicago since 2010. She is a member of Love & Protect, a grassroots organization that supports women and GNC/non-binary people of color who have been criminalized or harmed by state or interpersonal violence. Sarah intentionally focuses her documentation work on everyday people imagining and and building a world rooted in love and justice, a world where we don’t need prisons and police. She hopes that these images of resistance and reimagination will plant seeds in others to join in the work of collective liberation.
Billy Sell created art while in solitary confinement cell where he lived for the last six years of his life. Sentenced to prison at the age of 16, he enrolled in correspondence art courses and studied the work of other artists. Sell notes that he particularly liked the work of the Renaissance Italian sculptor Bernini and had hoped to do drawings of the Virgin of Guadalope for his mother. Sell participated in the 2012 California prisoners’ hunger strike against solitary confinement. After reported medical duress, Sell was found dead in his cell. His death was determined to be a suicide, though witnesses state that he had been seeking assistance. Sell was 32 years old.
“In 1989, I received a BFA in Graphic Design from The Wichita State University, and circumstances being what they are now, I probably should have pursued the Fine Arts curriculum. Although I am in the unit craft shop, my more expressive work is done by sketching the guys around me. Quite a few of the men have me do a drawing of them to send home to loved ones. Photos are usually inaccessible. And, my sketches are a way to record a vignette into prison culture.”
Welmon Sharlhorne, a native of Houma, La., spent much of his life behind bars in Louisiana’s Angola prison. There, he began drawing with the materials available to him: Bic pens and envelopes, later manila folders.
Sable Elyse Smith
Sable Elyse Smith is an interdisciplinary artist, writer, and educator based in New York & Richmond Virginia. Using video, sculpture, photography, and text, she points to the carceral, the personal, the political, and the quotidian to speak about a violence that is largely unseen, and potentially imperceptible. Her work has been featured at MoMA Ps1, New Museum, The Studio Museum in Harlem, Brooklyn Museum, New York; ICA Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA; and MIT List Visual Arts Centers, Cambridge, MA amongst others. She is currently Assistant Professor of Sculpture & Extended Media at the University of Richmond.
Justin Sterling, born and raised in Houston, Texas, is a visual artist currently based in New York City. He began his practice as a painter and sculptor, and later found interest in a broader range of media. Sterling received his Master in Interdisciplinary Fine Arts from Parsons. His chosen medium is the city, that he appropriates to create a poetic storytelling relationship with the urban and domestic, which in turn becomes a catalyst for social, political, and environmental discourse and activism.
Todd (Hyung-Rae) Tarselli
Tarselli has been in prison since 1992 and in solitary confinement for at least seven of those years. During his imprisonment, he has become a prolific artist, making works on found material, like leaves collected from the prison yard, but also by using isolation as penal matter, the subject of exploration in some of his work. Tarselli, who is Korean American, draws on earlier prisoners’ rights movements and on the racial and political education he has gained through the study of black radical activism and scholarship, having been tutored by political dissidents also held in isolation. Tarselli draws detailed portraits of black political leaders and imprisoned activists, both as part of his practice of solidarity and as a political critique of the relationship between incarceration, racial captivity, and dispossession.
Stephen Tourlentes is a photographer whose practice investigates the American landscape in the age of mass incarceration. His work is motivated by his concern with the lack of social investment in communities that has led to the systematic growth in the prison industry. His work has been widely exhibited both nationally and internationally including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Chicago Art Institute the Aperture Foundation and The Museum of Fine Arts Boston. He is the recipient of many awards for his work including a John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, an Artadia Fellowship, Massachusetts Cultural Council Fellowships and a McDowell Colony Fellow. He is a visiting faculty member and administrator at The Massachusetts College of Art & Design.
Jerome Washington has been creating art for several years. He has participated in the Prisoner Express art project for the past 9 years and has been represented in several exhibitions. Art has been the way to endure the loneliness of solitary confinement. As he says, “I’m not a bad seed, I just keep getting thrown into the hole all the time.” But in solitary he has also found – as he puts it – “The Bright Light of Learning.” Washington notes he never learned to read or write until recently, having spent a lifetime institutionalized where he was labeled with an IQ of 68, and the skills seems out of his ability. In teaching himself to read and write, Washington feels the relief of “a great burden from my shoulders.” Most recently, he has combined his new skill of writing with art, creating comic books for children.
Aimee is a self taught artist, activist, and the founder of the Returning Artists Guild, a network of 25 currently/formerly incarcerated artists. She is relentless in her pursuit of resources and partners to support arts access and exhibition opportunities for the guild and beyond.
After receiving a Master of Social Work from University of Pennsylvania, Ziegler studied art for 4 years at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Ziegler exhibited for several years in various galleries; eventually deciding to exhibit her work in high security prisons where the audience would not have the same variables of power or money characterizing much of the commercial art world audience. These exhibitions led Ziegler to teaching art in prisons and becoming the volunteer art director for Prisoner Express (in the Center for Transformative Action affiliated with Cornell University) a distant learning program offering free through-the-mail courses to 8500 prisoners across the US.