I am From…

In the month of April, National Poetry Month, JAC invited the artists in our network to participate in a poetry challenge: writing “I am From” poems.

Annabel Manning of Prison Art + Aesthetics Project (PAAP) is collaborating with JAC on an “I Am” poetry and drawing project.  JAC invites network artists and writers to submit an “I Am” poem to share on JAC’s blog and other social media sites. Everyone who submits a poem receives a copy of another JAC network member’s poem in return. In this time of isolation caused by COVID-19, we have an opportunity to communicate with one another through poetry.

PAAP is a collaborative criminal justice project with Cathedral St. John the Divine, The Confined Arts, and the Transdisciplinary Aesthetics Foundation. PAAP is an art-centric 18-month project committed to working collectively to imagine a justice system that is not centered on incarceration and punishment. PAAP organizes art-related events aiming to understand and transform the criminal justice system with the active engagement of people most impacted by incarceration.  It is community focused as well as transdisciplinary, and involves aesthetics.

A classic writing exercise, an “I am From” poem follows a specific template. It allows a poet to think deeply about and illustrate the concept of being “from” something, some place, or someone. “I am From” is a bit like poetic Mad-Libs.

We were honored to receive these works in response. We have included some commentary in the artists’ own words, as well. Each participating artist also received another artist’s work in return, in an exchange that we hope fosters connection in a time where it is direly needed.

We will be adding new poems to this page as we receive them, so please check back!

Carla Joan Simmons
I Am From
Joshua Earls

JE: I loved having a template to work from because my own experience with writing poetry has been very limited. I loved this project, the writing of it, the way  it came together, illustrating it. The fact y’all gave us this project right now when so many of us are on lockdown was wonderful!

Artist statement: Josh Earls did not create art most of his life. It was during the turbulent and sometimes terrifying first months incarcerated that he discovered the therapeutic powers of art. After nearly a year of simply coloring and keeping busy someone impressed upon him to try to “create.” Since then he has worked hard to develop skills in drawing and oil painting, painting a diverse range of subject matter matter from detailed, realistic portraits, to colorful songbirds to abstract forests and even his own mother’s red velvet cake.”

I am From
Jordan K. Earls
Carla Joan Simmons
I Am From
Edee Allynah

E.A.:”My father was a ‘Hell’s Angel’ in the outlaw motorcycle club in California- quite a colorful upbringing!”

I Am From
Gary K Farlow

G.F.: “It was quite fun to compose and I took my time to reflect upon family traditions that I once took for granted but are truly a part of who I am.”


BH: Keefe coffee is a staple item to anyone who has been in prison or jail. A truly iconic look and brand to anyone who has done any time. Ask anyone who [has] done time or anyone who has been in, they will “get” it…

Artist Statement: My favorite styles of work are both impressionism and pop art. Where I love the style of more impressionist art, I find the subject matter boring at times. The pop art genre I like because of the identifiable items, with the simplifying in technique, be it silks screens or brand name objects, and just the plain audacity of the genre. My favorite artist is Edward Hopper, not only because of the use of acrylic, but because of the light and dark play in most of his work, with the illusion of detail also in play.

Samson Loynachan
Samson Loynachan
Charlie Castillo
Charles “Charlie Henry” Castillo
Bryant Harrison
Bryant Harrison
From Annabel Manning: 

The Institute for Innovation in Prosecution at John Jay College invited Annabel Manning and Michael Kelly of the Prison Art + Aesthetics Project (PAAP) to co-host, with Pastor Isaac Scott of The Confined Arts, and with musical accompaniment by Robbie Pollock of PEN, an “I Am” poetry and drawing session on Resilience as part of IIP’s “Remote Arts Series.”

We began the Zoom event by discussing the importance of poetry (a poem by Audre Lorde) and the specific value of “I AM” poems, as they shift the viewpoint in criminal justice reform from the second or third person to the first person, highlighting lived experience as the starting point for engaging in the creative process to become resilient. Zoom participants read “I Am” poems written by incarcerated or previously incarcerated poets. Then a few IIP participants also read their poems, having received the “I AM” template in advance. After the readings, each participant, also having the drawing template in advance, chose a few important words from the poems, wrote them down on a separate page, and created drawings inspired by them.

Some of our deepest feelings emerged so naturally through the poetry, drawing, and music—art. The creative practice in improvisational forms was a success on Zoom, resulting in a raw and necessary moment of resilience in such a difficult time. Stay tuned in June for the podcasts, poems, and images on https://www.arts4society.com.

Please consider joining our pARTner Project to connect directly with an artist in prison. Find more information and sign up by clicking here.

2 thoughts on “I am From…

  1. jelsawaf

    I’m are so glad you enjoyed seeing Josh and Jordy’s work on the blog, Imogene! We were honored to feature it; your grandsons are incredible artists and have contributed so much to our work at JAC. You might also want to check out the newest post, which highlights their work! Wishing the best to you and your family.

  2. Imogene Bolf

    This was such a wonderful surprise on such a gloomy day. I just wanted to thank you for this. My daughter had shared both Josh and Jordy’s poem with me, but to find it printed on your website for others to enjoy was so exciting for me. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you! You see I am proud to say the poem by Josh Earls and Jordan Earls are my grandsons. Both Josh and Jordy are extremely talented and such wonderful boys. I know there is a purpose and a reason for all that happens to us in this life, and if not being where they are, possibly we would never have experienced the God given talents they have. Thank you so very much for what you are doing.

    One proud grandparent, Imogene Bolf

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