Do you believe that art can change lives? We do, and so do our friends at the Art for Justice Fund. We’re excited to be partnering with the Art for Justice Fund to present an exhibition at our Waterbury, Vermont, factory made up entirely of the work of formerly incarcerated artists.
At the show’s kickoff event yesterday, we heard artists and activists talk about the impact America’s broken criminal justice system has had on their own lives, their families, and their communities. The truth is that mass incarceration affects all of us—about half of all Americans have a family member who’s been incarcerated. And while the US has only 5% of the world’s population, it accounts for a hard-to-believe 25% of the world’s prison population.
This has to change. We hope you love the art you’ll see at Art For Justice—and then we hope you’ll join our campaign to transform the criminal justice system.
Art for Justice
As we’ve pushed for front-end criminal justice reform, we’ve cited all kinds of numbers and statistics that highlight the system’s inherent injustice and racism. But nothing brings home how badly change is needed like listening to the stories of people who’ve been through the system themselves.
The art in this exhibit tells those stories in partnership with the Art for Justice Fund, which wants to reduce America’s number-one-in-the-world-by-far prison population and help returning citizens transition successfully back to society.
Art for Justice has four goals:
- Keep people out of jail and prison in the first place: through front end reform efforts, like ending money bail, holding prosecutors accountable, and encouraging art-based diversion programs for kids
- Shorten prison sentences: by supporting efforts to reform or repeal laws that allow for extreme sentences
- Help formerly incarcerated people return to society: by increasing educational and employment opportunities for all returning citizens
- Change the narrative around incarceration: by providing a platform for artists, “to bear witness to the injustices of the criminal justice system and to humanize people enmeshed in it.”
Our CEO, Matthew McCarthy, was there at the factory on Tuesday, along with Vermont attorney general T.J. Donovan and our very own Jerry Greenfield. But the stars of the show were the artists. Terrence Bogans, of Art for Justice, spoke to us about how art can help “change the hearts and minds of everyday people”—and act as a catalyst to creating political change—by bringing the horrors of the criminal justice system to life.
“We want to restore dignity to people who have been incarcerated. The time is so ripe for change right now, because we’re finally allowing the people most impacted to lead the cause. We’re just trying to follow them.”
- Mary Enoch Elizabeth Baxter is a Philadelphia artist who creates socially conscious music through an autobiographical lens. Her “Ain’t I a Woman” is an unflinching look at her experience of giving birth while shackled in prison. Since creating this triptych, she’s partnered with politicians, activists, and other artists to support the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act. Baxter was able to make the trip to Vermont for the opening. “Not only am I able to advocate for myself” through art, she told us, “but for all the women behind the walls that nobody sees.”
- Russell Craig is a self-taught Philadelphia-based artist. Craig became involved in Mural Arts Philadelphia’s Restorative Justice Program and later joined the organization to paint murals in under-resourced communities. Craig’s work has been featured in exhibitions focused on social justice issues, including Truth to Power as part of the 2016 Democratic National Convention and State Goods: Art in the Era of Mass Incarceration, a collaboration with the Center for Justice at Columbia University. Russell Craig is a Co-Chair of the Right of Return Fellowship.
- Jesse Krimes is a Philadelphia based conceptual artist. Shortly after graduating college with honors, he was indicted by the US government on drug charges. Over the period of his incarceration, he produced numerous bodies of work exploring his experiences and reflecting on contemporary society. Upon his release in 2014, he co-founded Right of Return USA in partnership with the Soze Agency, the first national fellowship dedicated to supporting formerly incarcerated artists.
- Reginald Dwayne Betts is a poet, memoirist, and lawyer. His next collection of poetry, Felon, will be published in 2019 by Norton. Betts’ memoir, A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison, was the recipient of the 2010 NAACP Image Award for non-fiction. He is a 2018 Guggenheim Fellow and a 2018 Emerson Fellow at New America. He holds a B.A. from the University of Maryland; an M.F.A. from Warren Wilson College; and, a J.D. from Yale Law School.
The criminal justice system might at first seem like some large and abstract thing, something hard to see or understand. But the art on display at our Waterbury factory tells a different story. It tells a story about this country, about our neighbors and friends, about our families—about us.
The injustice in this broken system is an injustice we all have to confront, because we are all affected.
We hope you’ll stand with us and join the Justice ReMix’d campaign to transform the criminal justice system. Together we can tell a new story—a story about fairness and equity, a story about strengthening families and communities. A story with a happy ending.