“Browned-Down & Blue”
“When we were spirited away from Graterford, all of our property was taken from us with the hope that it would be returned when we reached Phoenix. That didn’t happen. Along with other items, including a beloved pair of shoes, most of my art supplies came up missing, including my good brushes. Still, my paint got through which I was glad for. I may have talked before about how most of the guards handling us–separating us from our goods, stripping us down, transporting us etc.–were white and the majority of those being handled were black. It was troubling and reminded me of Michelle Alexandre’s book, “The New Jim Crow”–an informative and important work. I had also read Zora Neale Thurston’s “Barracoon” about an African man’s capture and transport on the last slave ship to enter our nation. For me, its all related and these thoughts informed my work. Without brushes, I made a series of drawings of similar men. Then I took some Styrofoam trays (We were locked in for quite awhile and that’s what they fed us on.) and taped the drawings over them. After that, I pushed a sewing needle through the outlines of the drawings as I guide. Next, I cut out the shapes and added details by carving lines into the pieces. Finally, I spread colors on some cardboard, rubbed the cutouts in them and stamped the piece out over a phthalo blue background. After some touch ups, the piece was done. While the concept was born in the darkness of being mistreated in prison and informed by knowledge of the historical mistreatment of blacks and other marginalized people in our nation, I chose brighter colors here because I didn’t want to send too much darkness to the person who requisitioned the piece. While unintentional, the finished piece has a kind of pop art feel which I like. Anyway, I hope you like it. (BTW, both books are worthwhile reads, more so Alexander’s.)
“This past Sunday, a group of CADBI members, some from “the street” and others not yet released, met in the east side gym at SCI-Phoenix. Over cups of strong coffee, we discussed what worked and what might have worked better in 2018 and made plans for the new year. One of the goals identified, that I thought was very important, was the need to generate more legislative support for Streets and Dawkins bills and any other bill that will give us a real chance to go home. To that end, and concretely, R2R member Bobby said his people will set up a legislative visit–in Delco, I believe–and my sister Joanne will be doing the same in Bucks. Of course, they will be receiving support from other CADBI members. This year, we will be using various outreach strategies to have more families/friends make similar visits especially in districts outside of the two major metropolitan areas. Its going to happen. Another important issue is funding. Issues such as increasing membership, better communications, forums and other gatherings all need finances to be effective. There was a get toghether with those present on the finance committees which I’m sure was helpful. There were plenty of other issues raised and tons of smart and thoughtful ideas as well. I know we have enough brains and energy to make it happen, and its going to happen too. It was hopeful that so many family members of those suffering dbi are CADBI members and were present Sunday. It’s important that we imprisoned, and our families/friends who suffer along with us, do whatever we can do to free ourselves from our endless, cruel and unnecessary imprisonment. Yet, we also need the support, the energy, the commitment and, yes, the love of others to make it through. As we were embraced by those in solidarity with us, this past Sunday, all of those much needed things were in abundance. We can feel it.”
“Move to Phoenix”
“So, we’ve been under threat that we’re moving to Phoenix for quite a while now. For various reasons I’m not looking forward to it. Of course, its not like we’re moving from a great situation to a bad one, we’re not. Prison sucks everywhere, all the time. Anyway, we’re slated to move, once again, Monday… or not. I’m treading water here in some ways. I work for the Mural Arts and things are at a standstill for now. There’s said to be “miles of walls” for us to paint at Phoenix and, no doubt, I’ll be painting over a lot of the gloom once there. I have mixed feelings about that. I mean, I do want to make the building, at least seem, less oppressive but I don’t want to contribute to the problem in any way. I’m against prisons in general and “new prisons” all the more. WTF? A while back, we were tasked with painting mural for the lobby of Phoenix and I didn’t want to do it and no one did either. I believe I could have finagled my way out of it too. (My finagling skills are well-honed.) But what then? So rather than leave it to other guys, (Possibly with less finagling skills?) a few of us divided the work and did the deed. We actually did a good job too and the bird looks good. (My understanding is that its on the doc website.) And while I do realize that all prisoner jobs are both exploitive and coercive and its just a painting and maybe I’m over thinking it and– I still feel complicit somehow. (BTW, whenever I can shoehorn in a word like finagle, I’m going for it!) Aside from that nonsense, I’m more hopeful than I’ve been in many years. Its mind-blowing that we have a progressive like Krasner in Philly and maybe I’ll get some relief there–I’ll need help. Then, there are positive legislative moves being made which may help as well. I’m also near two years into the commutation process and while its a crap shoot, I’m actually a good candidate, so why not? Finally, I am lifted up and sustained by everyone fighting against DBI–I can feel it, we all can.”
writing by Thomas Schilk
Come over here Inmate and turn around,
Produce your I.D.,
It’s time to shake it down.
So drop your browns,
Your socks and briefs,
Show me the dirty soles Of both your feet,
Open up your mouth,
Stick out your tongue,
Shake out your hair and Let’s have some fun. Hey!
Cut the crying, Like it’s some big attack,
Just lift ‘em up And skin it back.
Okay, turn around Don’t dare ask why,
Just bend on over, Yeah, spread ‘em wide.
Now, put your clothes Back on and don’t act tough, ‘Cause if you want to, I can play this rough.
Just follow orders, And don’t complain,
Yeah, feel real lucky There’s some restraints.
So, get back inside Your shiny cell, Where life’s too easy
‘Though it could be hell.
writing by Thomas Schilk
Art by Thomas Schilk