Art + Agency

“We acknowledge the iterative nature of abolition and while this is not a complete message, it is a direct one. We invite you to listen, receive, imagine, and then apply the calls to action and creation embedded within.”

We are excited to announce the publication of Art + Agency: Educating Allies and Empowering Artists! The Art + Agency zine includes guiding principles for organizations/institutions and a guide for artists in carceral spaces that covers the fundamentals of safely marketing and publishing their work, advice about pricing their work, and tips for self-advocacy. 

This zine is a reference point for building ethical standards to which entities and individuals hold themselves accountable when exhibiting, selling, and/or publishing creative work by artists impacted by the criminal legal system.

About Art + Agency

The Art + Agency project began with a conversation during a roundtable discussion at JAC’s 2021 National Convening: Art For A New Future. This inspired JAC to bring together artists from our community to facilitate collaboration between a working group of subject matter experts with lived experience.

Since then, we received funding from the Art For Justice Fund to create and implement guiding principles informed by the experiences of system-impacted artists. The facilitation process was led by Kamisha Thomas and Aimee Wissman, co-founders of the Returning Artists Guild, and Page Dukes (Mourning Our Losses), with the insight of a working group consisting of seven artists who are incarcerated across the country.

Our Vision 

We hope to see a critical mass of arts organizations, institutions, and individuals adopting the guiding principles and equitably compensating and recognizing incarcerated artists. When systems-impacted creatives have agency over how their work is being priced, promoted, marketed, exhibited, written about, published, etc., this project will have proven to be a success. 

Download and Share the A+A Zine!

  • Read and download the Art + Agency: Educating Allies and Empowering Artists Zine pdf here. 
  • Share the A+A Zine. Download the zine and share it with your network on social media! 


  • Mail Room Standards. We formatted our zine with the purpose of sharing it with system-impacted artists. If you are sending it to someone inside, please make sure it’s printed on one-sided, white letter-sized paper with black ink. 
  • Text-Only Version. Download a text-only PDF version of the Art + Agency zine to share with readers who may need larger fonts or use adaptive technology. 
  • Language Translation. The zine will be available in Spanish soon. We hope to reach as many artists and organizations as possible, if you can assist with translating into additional languages, please contact us at



Aimee Wissman: Aimee began her artistic practice in Ohio’s maximum security prison for women. In spaces of trauma, confinement, and disconnection, she found herself reaching for the tools for self-expression, she taught herself to draw and paint over the course of five years inside, and now 3 “at home.” Aimee’s practice relies heavily on experimentation, material concerns, surface obsession, and the interconnected narratives of racism, sexism, mass incarceration, privilege, community creation and destruction, addiction, homelessness, and mental health issues. She’s being driven by a longing for justice, a need to make something come from her/your/our trauma and to be (perhaps) released in the making. 

Kamisha Thomas: Kamisha is a Columbus, Ohio native and second generation Justice Impacted Person, who is adamant about amplifying the voices of other JIP through creative expression. Always an avid pupil of English, Literature & the Arts, her educational journey blossomed into conquests of knowledge in the areas of communication, media production and ironically, criminal justice. She also achieved unprecedented success while incarcerated in a state correctional facility where she wrote and directed her first short film, BANG!, as a part of the Pens to Pictures Project. While her primary medium is creative writing, she utilizes her skills in graphic design, photography, video editing, and jewelry making as a form of therapy for everyday mental health and to clear up writer’s block. 

Page Dukes: Page is a native Atlien, suffragist, abolitionist and lifelong writer and musician. Released in May 2017, she is a founding member of the Athens Reentry Collaborative, Mourning Our Losses, and Georgia Freedom Letters, and a comms staffer for the Southern Center for Human Rights, raising awareness about the effects of incarceration, the need for restoration of rights, accurate media representation and amplification of imprisoned voices. 

All illustrations in the Art + Agency zine were created by Mark Loughney.

Working Group Participants:

Carole Alden:

Creating art in prison is fraught with angst. You must have written permission, in contract form, before starting any sort of craft project.

Born in 1960 in Orleans, France to American parents. Returned to grow up in the Western United States where I developed an abiding appreciation for the natural world. No formal education beyond high school. Two marriages resulted in five children and three grandchildren. Prior to having children, I worked in clay and some bronze. Upon the first child’s arrival, my studio needed to be safe, so I switched to fiber work. By the time my youngest two were 14 and 9, I had added welding, glass work, and plastic fabrication/sculpture to the mix. From 1991-2006 I worked full time, producing sculptures for exhibits and fairs. I also taught workshops in soft sculpture, surface design, and regularly spoke to university programs. 

Carla Simmons:

I benefit from art as a meditative practice and find that it is my only means of power in this world.

My name is Carla Joan Simmons and I am serving my 17th year of a life sentence in the state of Georgia. I come from a long line of self-taught artists and from a young age connected with art as an extension of my voice and a method of survival. Through it I am able to contribute to our culture and share my experience as a person whose life, and family, have been forever altered, and damaged, by the carceral system. 

Elisabeth “EJ” Joyner:

I am determined to give a voice to those who cannot or are afraid to speak.

I am EJ. I’ve been here almost two years longer than I was there. I am determined to give a voice to those who cannot or are afraid to speak. I am determined to be the unexpected. I am determined to end “Their” profiteering of humanity. People must know. I will tell them. 

William B. Livingston, III:

My entire life, I’ve been a musician, but I’ve always wanted to be an artist. 

Finding a new way to combine his passion for music, art, and the desire to give back to his community, William B. Livingston began designing and screen printing concert posters of the musicians he admires. These hand-printed posters would then be distributed for free by loved ones and volunteers to the patrons waiting in ticket lines at various music venues. Since music was not an option for the first three years of his forty-year incarceration, he decided to finally pursue painting. After some experimentation, he managed to find a style inside himself and dove in completely. 

Brett Gonzalez:

I am no longer myself, no longer in prison, but an active participant in a conversation that has been going on for the length of human history. A conversation that can trace its roots back to the first markings on cave walls. I am filled with a desire to express my experience of life in a way that will transcend my own life. This is what art is about for me. 

Brett considers this work autobiographical and representative of the “terrible beauty found in both past actions and lessons learned.” He uses paints, collage, pastel, and found materials to re-examine and re-contextualize the imagery found in the media around him, often magazines. “It seems that I shaped my life around a distorted reality that I perceived in media at a young age. Today, I use this same media to explore my previous misunderstandings by appropriating it for artistic purposes.” Utilizing the fashion magazines available to him, he explains, “I recompose these images, adding a new context to them that expresses my own sense of isolation, frustration, and societal impotence as well as my growing understanding of previous wrongs. I do this while also questioning the magazine’s original context of economics, art, and sexuality.” Brett currently serves as Chair of JAC’s Board of Directors. 

Kenneth Reams:

I create art for multiple reasons: for the pleasure that it brings; as a tool to inspire and educate others; for intimate growth and healing; for selling; to promote my social justice aims; and also, it’s my personal way of leaving behind an extension of myself with the wider world.

Kenneth is an artist, social justice activist, and the founder of Who Decides, Inc., a non-profit that aims to raise awareness through the arts of the racial, ethical, and socio-economic issues intertwined with the history and practice of capital punishment in America. Mr. Reams is a native of Pine Bluff, Arkansas, one of the most impoverished cities in America. Growing up in poverty, struggling with hunger, abuse, and a lack of opportunity, criminality became an increasingly prominent, unfortunate facet of Mr. Reams’ life. Following a botched robbery at a drive-thru ATM, where his friend shot and killed a man in the heat of the struggle, Mr. Reams was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death, becoming the then-youngest inmate on Arkansas’ death row, despite not having pulled the trigger. Facing execution for a crime he did not commit, Mr. Reams refused to allow his spirit to be broken, deciding to hone his life-long artistic skills and vision in order to share his story and perspective with the world. His art has been donated to several institutions, published in books; such as Marking Time – released in 2020, and featured in exhibits from New York to Norway, Little Rock to London, and many locations in between. Through a variety of media, including paintings, sculpture, and poetry, Mr. Reams expresses a uniquely visceral vision of the inhumane, arbitrary nature of capital punishment and the exploitative character of the prison-industrial complex. 

Spoon Jackson:

Being an artist is not to follow the yellow brick road; for success you must forge your own path- your own road and create your own journey!

Born into a family of fifteen boys in Barstow, California, Spoon Jackson was sentenced to Life Without Possibility of Parole when he was twenty years old. He discovered himself as a writer at San Quentin; played Pozzo in the prison’s 1988 production of Waiting for Godot; and has written, published, and received awards for plays, poetry, novels, fairy tales, short stories, essays, and a memoir during the more than forty years he has been behind bars. His poems are collected in Longer Ago, and he co-authored the memoir By Heart: Prison, Poetry, and Two Lives with teaching artist Judith Tannenbaum.

Want to Learn More?

Art + Agency Launch Event 

A future launch event will offer further exploration into the zine, the realities for many artists on the inside as informed by the working group and facilitation team, and the next phase of the A+A project. Sign up for our mailing list to get the latest updates for all upcoming JAC events so you don’t miss anything!

A+A Community Conversations

As part of the A+A team’s efforts to gather information from both sides of prison walls, we hosted a public forum. During these conversations, the community reflected on two guiding questions:

  1. How do we define non-exploitative treatment of artists and art within our programs?
  2. What methods are available to us in thinking about how to intervene or interrupt within moments and trends of exploitation?

View the Art + Agency meeting recordings on exploitation, ethics, and restorative responses, facilitated by Page Dukes and Anooj Bhandari.