“Upon receipt of your envelope, I was a bit anxious, not knowing what to expect. After reading your volunteer’s kind words, I am filled with a joy not felt in some time. Prison is a place where you are never apart but always alone. Everything is transitory, temporary. For me, part of the pain of prison is the loss of connection. Art is one way that I try and reclaim that —the act of creating something permanent to remind the world, “I’m here!” If it moves someone else — forms a connection in some way — then my goal is met. The letters from your volunteers show that. That is a tremendous blessing. Thank you.” -Mark, artist
“It is truly an honor to know my work is being viewed via JAC. After nearly 30 years of incarceration, the feelings of benign forgotten weigh heavily. We are the disenfranchised, the marginalized, the cast-aways. True, as I often tell others, I did this to myself. I blame no one but me. Yet I long for a second chance, the opportunity to be re-interwoven back into the fabric of America from which my crime ripped me. JAC is like a seamstress, sticking me and other prisoners back into the tapestry of society. Saying “thank you” is woefully inadequate. But please know how truly grateful I am.”
— Gary, artist
“I was VERY delighted to have received a letter back from you guys this past week and pleasantly surprised to hear that my artwork had been shown and that it received a good response. It is hard to put into words how much it meant to me to know others enjoyed my work. Upt to this point the people who have seen my work have primarily been friends and family, and they are always going to be positive. Feedback from an art-loving stranger was wonderful and it made me immediately grateful for the JAC, its volunteers and supporters.
Just to tell you how delighted I was, let me tell you about how I received your letter. The officer on duty gave me the letter at “mail call” and I quickly opened it once I returned to my room. I had to re-read the first page printed on your letterhead because my first read-thru had been a bit over-eager and I hadn’t understood a word! Then, I found the two personal notes, one from Ms. Meredith and the other from Ms. Jayme, and I had to stifle a couple of leaky eyes. I held them up to show my roommate, before even reading, and said, “Hey! It’s like…fan mail!” Gosh, having not read them I suppose they could have said anything, but I was just so delighted to know my art had been seen! In a single, personal interaction with you guys I have been further encouraged to continue pursuing an art career upon my release.”
— Joshua, artist
“The Justice Arts Coalition is instrumental to my work as a teaching artist at a county prison in Boston. Its newsletter and blog is a supportive and useful resource for teaching artists nationwide who must address the unique challenges that come with our teaching environment. It offers us an online community and, should we choose, the opportunity to make real time connections. But most importantly, the JAC offers my students a place to transcend their confinement and appear in our society, not as an inmate, or offender, but as an artist. It provides my students an audience, and in so doing offers them affirmation and builds for them, a new identity. Ultimately, the JAC quietly and effectively shows the humanity of incarcerated men and women by supporting them as artists and supporting the artists who teach them. The JAC is always responsive to my requests and contributions to its gallery and blog. I am grateful that it exists as a partner in our common mission to support incarcerated artists and to demonstrate how crucial the arts are to self-discovery, self-esteem, and healing.”
— Peggy Rambach, Teaching Artist
“I am still in a state of disbelief at how people respond to my art. Whenever I sit down to paint with my junky paintbrush and pen ink I’m transported out of this cell and am totally consumed with filling that piece of paper full of my emotions, my stress, anxiety, fear, love, etc. I’m able to let it all out with each little stroke and it never fails to surprise me when I’m finished at how cool it comes out. I’m completely in love with painting. Thank you for allowing me to “set free” each portrait I do. It’s stupid but I like to think that just because I’m in here it doesn’t mean they have to be as well.”
— Chad, artist
“Thank you again for what you are doing. It means a lot to me to know that people will actually be seeing my work and that I am not just speaking to myself when I make these pieces. Losing my voice, my ability to be a part of society, was one of my greatest fears when coming to prison. Thank you for giving me back my voice.”
— Tomás, artist
“Thank you so much for the feedback from the JAC volunteers. I don’t think you guys realize the impact you have on a federal prisoner. On paper, there’s thousands of non-profit organizations who help the incarcerated retain their humanity, redeem themselves and try not to allow the prison industrial complex to harden their hearts. From personal knowledge, the majority are just playing lip service. For approximately 5 months you guys have given me genuine, personal and insightful feedback. In a place that is void of sincere support, you guys help motivate me towards the path of artistic expression.”
— Charles, artist
“What you are doing is a tremendous service to the inmates and those who have been released. You give them some hope that they won’t be forgotten, that they can be recognized for the amazing work that they do and that when they get out they can continue to do. Josh is only one of many who have discovered a talent that would never have been realized had he not been imprisoned, so there is something good that has come out of this. Thanks for all your efforts.”
— Anne, mother of artist Josh
“I know how committed you are to the Coalition and how important you have been in supporting Carole with her artistic endeavors. I hardly knew what to expect when I happened upon the [JAC] website last year. Your immediate response reaching out to me was heartwarming and hopeful.
In no time you had suggested opportunities to present her work leading to her pieces being featured at the Muckenthaler gallery in CA. You reached out to both Carole and to myself numerous times this past year keeping us in the loop of appropriate gallery shows or with people whom she should contact.
I feel like you are a number one caring support for our family. Goodness knows prisoners need “Cheerleaders” on their side. That you have been. When I recently asked for a letter of support to go to the Board of Pardons for an upcoming reconsideration early release you immediately replied with a supportive letter. I have a great sense that you care deeply about the prisoners you work with and their families.”
— Elva, mother of artist Carole
“Your work with [JAC] continues to be so thoughtful, vibrant and compassionate, in bringing to the light of day and sharing the work of artists in prison, inspiring individuals on the inside and the outside. You continue to be amazing. I know ALL the families and people who are affected by incarceration feel so thankful.”
— Rebecca, artist’s aunt
“Thanks for sending me the letters [from the JAC volunteers who viewed his work]. They came at a much needed time. They lifted my spirits and put a smile on my face. Almost had me shedding tears of joy but I couldn’t let nobody see that :)!”
— Rayfel, artist
“I loved receiving the letters about my work and the impressions they had on people. So much of the art in prison is about portraits, photo realism and the like. Because my work is, well, more impressionistic it doesn’t always receive recognition in here from others. Looking at the [JAC mission statement] at the bottom of the letter I received — “a unique voice” — I think that succinctly captures my hope as an artist and my own goals when creating art. To create something of maybe mundane, depressing things and hopefully get a person to see it differently. To think of things in a different way. To see us prisoners beyond the crimes we committed.”
— Brian, artist
“The two letters I received [from JAC volunteers] were an overwhelming surprise. I was touched by their insights and appreciations. My gratitude can’t be expressed enough. For many prison artists, praise from the outside world is especially encouraging and an impetus to create more art. Inspirational words add high-octane fuel to our motivation”
— James, artist
“I have had the honor of writing for Justice Arts Coalition’s blog for the past five years. Justice Arts Coalition provides a platform for a vast range of individuals; artists who are incarcerated, teachers and artists who work with those artists, families of incarcerated individuals, and all those many others who are interested in contributing to the conversation of art as a vital element in the transformation of not only individuals but society. It is to the latter – society – for which JAC’s function in supporting these voices/visions becomes very powerful. In this capacity, JAC is the national voice directed towards societal transformative that makes individual transformation possible.”
— Treacy Ziegler, JAC blog contributor, artist, MSW, and art director for Prisoner Express
“Thank you so much for this opportunity. Knowing that there are still people out there who care enough to take the time to send and/or listen to what I feel I need to say is such a blessing. Being in this place, sometimes it feels that nobody cares or that I am simply forgotten. My heart is full of things that I believe need to be shared. And having that means more to me than you may ever know. Thanks again!”
— Jordan, artist
“Dear [ArtLinks volunteer]: Salutations from one art lover to another. You can’t imagine how much it pleases me that people get to view my work and that anyone might be impacted by the portrait sketches that I draw. It is impressive and surprising that you would be considerate enough to bless me with your comments. I know that everyone’s time is valuable. This makes the generosity of your words that much more endearing….
Again, thank you for your encouraging words. Recognition and approval are lifelines for building self-worth. My gratitude is beyond measure.”
— James, artist
“It is enough that our time with loved ones is taken from us in penalty. Our voices and hearts expression should have a continuum always, this is the essence of life and no one should be allowed to take that from any individual under any circumstances. So thank you so much for providing an outlet for this; it’s rewarding to me to have this form of expression, correspondence, communication. I sincerely hope this is reciprocated to you and the members of the Coalition committee who work to make this possible that they can continually feel their efforts are making a difference and receive a beneficial impact in their own lives as well. And of course I hope that people will buy my artwork through this experience as I constantly stress about my animals everyday.
My deepest gratitude to you, to Wendy and to the Justice Arts Coalition’s entirety.”
–Cedar Annenkovna, artist
“When we were first starting out as a program, I was planning a trip from San Diego, CA to Seattle, WA to visit writing programs that were working with underserved or “at-risk” communities. As I was creating my itinerary, I happened upon the Justice Arts Coalition website. I was thrilled to find the Program Directory (a geographical listing of Arts programs working in settings of incarceration), and my trip immediately got rearranged and—by far—improved. Also, I immediately sent an e-mail to JAC telling them about our program and inquiring as to whether or not we could be listed on their site. When they listed us it felt like we’d been seen. Truly encouraging. About five years on, I can say without reservation that I believe the JAC to be a great organization that has emboldened us, and so many others We’ve had a number of incredible opportunities come our way simply by being listed in the Program Directory. Thank you, JAC. Thank you, Wendy Jason and all the crew working with you. We love the work you’re doing and we look forward to our continuing connection.” – Matt Malyon, Founding Director of Underground Writing
“I’ve enjoyed receiving feedback from [ArtLinks volunteers]. For many of us who often feel like our thoughts and emotions cannot be expressed beyond these walls, this program gives us a unique platform, and the correspondence by people like yourselves adds to a sense of purpose and is motivation to continue creating.”
— Wes, artist
“I’d like to thank you for allowing artists who are incarcerated to showcase their art. There are limited resources dedicated to helping inmates and it means a lot knowing there are extraordinary people out there who haven’t cast a blind eye to us behind bars.
It’s a breath of fresh air to get feedback from complete strangers and it has personally motivated me to work more on the thing that I love…
…I’m so happy when I can evoke feelings through my art. It makes it all worthwhile.
— Corey, artist
“Thank you so much for your care and effort on my behalf — what an angel! It’s hard to convey the pain and frustration that incarceration is — art truly gives voice and a release of negative feelings so your platform and inclusion of my expression has reminded me of what it feels like to be a person instead of a number — it’s nice to be a person. Thank you!!!”
— Taecia, artist
“There’s a collective consciousness of kindness here.”
— Bob, pARTner project volunteer, on JAC’s Wednesday night network gatherings