TITLE: Prison Art and Dedication
DATE: 9/08/2004 05:10:00 AM
I was searching the blogosphere today and ran across Prison Pete's blog.
Really I was on a simple expedition to identify what more popular blogs are doing which I should mirror to bring more attention to my quiet little corner. Prison Pete's blog is hugely popular and yet Pete doesn't even manage his own blog. So I read on to see what all the fuss was about.
Whatever my thoughts on Pete or his blog... it did give me pause.
When I first started working at the company I am currently with, we received a small string of letters from prisoners that had read my bosses book and had comments or questions.
Eventually I became the recipient of these letters. I'm not exactly sure why or how this happened, but it did. As a 'prison letter' was received, the receptionist would place it on my desk with this paranoid look in her eyes, touching the envelope with her index finger and thumb as if it were radioactive. (For the record: she was overly dramatic about everything, not just letters from jail.)
I answered enough of these that I wrote a 'help sheet' for these prisoners that I could just print off and include with my brief reply letter. Most of the letters were penned by long-term felons who spent a good deal of time practicing one art/craft form or another. On the 'help sheet' I offered the names of other books and web sites that could help them develop their work more or give them info on where other prisoners have ultimately taken their artwork.
One day I received a box from Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. Our receptionist paged me to come to her desk. I arrived to find she and our human resources officer standing over the tiny box, staring at it. I assumed it was a sample from someone, but usually she carried these over with a shake of her wrist as if it were Christmas and she was trying to guess what was in the box. When I saw the return address I rolled my eyes and snatched it up. She was deathly afraid to pick it up and even more sure I shouldn't open it. Did she actually think an inmate would 'craft' a bomb and send it to me as a nice little surprise?
Less dramatically, inside was a hand-written letter (they always were hand-written) and a belt buckle that demonstrated the author's amazing skill in metalwork. He explained that he wanted to learn how to improve the work, price it, and sell it. He said that he had sent similar samples to a craft gallery he had read about but that they hadn't returned his samples or subsequent letters. I had to think about this overnight... It hadn't occurred to me that prisoners could sell their art or craftwork!
Looking into it I learned that Angola was an unusual penitentiary. It has it's own museum for goodnesss sakes! They also hold rodeos, have a newspaper, and a craft sale just before the holidays. (And, before you get up in arms... No, funds raised do not go directly to any inmates.)
Over the course of the year I wrote to this inmate two more times. I never stopped viewing him as an inmate, but I absolutely did take him and his craft seriously. Afterall, he did.
This experience... reading Prison Pete's blog... it all draws attention to one thing: DEDICATION.
Now it can easily be noted that inmates have nothing but time to write, think, and hone skills. The fact remains that it takes dedication to move from wishing you could own a business and plotting the plan to actually executing the idea and committing to working on it every day.
So too, it takes this same brand of dedication to carve intricate layers of metal and place them together to create a seemless buckle-sized landscape with birds, horses, and a rustic fenced-in barn. Many artists (in jail or not) would have long ago given up and thrown the piece across the room! This artwork, the sample I received in the box that day, was not the work of someone who faltered in dedication.
When you reach that point in your studio... you're tired, pieces aren't quite fitting together, and you're wondering why you didn't just follow a traditional career path, I ask you to do one thing:
Step away and remember you have a choice. You have the opportunity to choose to follow your art/craft or to choose a more traditional life.
There are so many talented people in the world who do not have that choice and don't know a life of options or flexibility. Be thankful you have that and allow your dedication to grow out of a point of gratefulness.
DATE:10/19/2004 02:14:00 PM
I browsed to Prison Pete blog after reading yours. Your message reminded me to value my freedom and make the most of my time. I have learned recently that projects not finished on time, can be detrimental advertising, and I am trying not to incur the wrath of clients who can sink my ship or send me to new ports of call. Thanks for posting it.