There are two main emotions every convict locked away in America is forced to cope with during his incarceration: Anger, and Loneliness.
Anger at the situation we’ve somehow brought crashing down upon ourselves, and anger at a system that refuses to aid in our rehabilitation even though we cry out for it.
And a heart-wrenching loneliness that expands and deepens as the years fly by and we grow more and more isolated from our friends, families, loved ones, and society in general.
One of the ways I cope with my anger and loneliness is through art. More importantly, for me, Abstract Art. I paint with these emotions. When I am angry I slash and smash paint onto the canvas, mostly utilizing bright violent colors, allowing that anger to bleed out through my fingers rather than through my fists.
And when I am sad and lonely, I push somber colors aound the canvas in long lazy strokes, allowing my mind to soar far and wide, imagining a life free of bondage and hate, yet full of love and compassion. A life where I have someone to hug and kiss, children to care for and raise, and a community that welcomes me home.
Well, today here in prison is a special day for us artists. Today is our annual visit by the University of Michigan’s P.C.A.P. (Prisoner Creative Arts Program).
Once a year (usually in April or May), U of M sponsors an art show honoring all of us artists locked away in the State of Michigan. And once a year the P.C.A.P. staff make it a special point to visit every prison in Michigan to judge paintings and to select the ones they feel are worthy of the show.
This year I am entering one painting. A red, white, and blue storm of madness bursting with anger, frustration, and sadness. I’ve titled this hurricane of color, Trump’s America, and I wish I could show you a picture of it. Seeing it, I’m sure you’d instantly understand the negative feelings churning inside me over the crazy stuff our President is dragging our nation through. He’s tearing us apart, inside prisons and outside of them. Sure, he signed the First Step Act, and many (including me) applaud him for that. But the First Step Act does little to temper the racism he’s fueling. A racism that already runs deep on all sides in prison. And outside of prison he’s fueling homophobia, bigotry, racism, nationalism, etc… He claims to want prison reform (which is every convict’s dream), yet his actions say otherwise. He claims to be a patriot, that he loves America, yet his actions say otherwise. He keeps talking about immigrants like they’re dogs, yet the last time I checked, he’s not Native American, which means his family were immigrants at some point too, just like mine, and almost every other family in America. Hell, his wife (a wonderful and kind woman) is an immigrant.
So what I think he means is that only the powerful and wealthy are welcome on our shores. Screw the downtrodden, the oppressed, and those in search of a better way of life….
All of us artists gather in a large, antiseptic-scented room painted in institutional whites, beiges, and greys. There are no bars on the windows, but the fisheye security camera and heavy steal door remind us we are still in prison. We sit in neat rows nervously awaiting the P.C.A.P. volunteers arrival. Everyone jokes and laughs, but their eyes keep drifting towards the door, then back to their pieces of art resting atop one of two long rows of narrow folding tables.
For some suspicious reason, my painting ended up on an old, beat up, Formica-covered podium stuffed in the corner near the guard’s shoeshine chair (which better resembles a wooden throne) instead of on the tables with all the others. When I inquire about this, I am simply told there wasn’t enough room, yet our prison sits smack dab in the middle of Trump Country, so I have my doubts.
The U of M volunteers arrive, and after a quick speech thanking us for contributing, we are asked to stand by our artwork, and they go to work.
There are six or so college students and one professor. They move amongst us as if we are normal people, asking questions about our work and making suggestions for future work.
Stuck off by myself, nobody seems to realize I even have a painting, so I’m forced to nervously gain a pretty Asian American girl’s attention by waving to her.
“Hi. Would you like to see my painting?” I ask, hoping I don’t come off like some weirdo lurking in the park wearing nothing but a trench coat.
She smiles and approaches. “Sure. Let’s have a look.”
I spin and lead her to my podium near the wooden throne.
“What’s it titled?” she asks after eyeing the shoeshine chair with distaste. She runs her fingers over my chaotic drips, smears, and slashes of patriotic color. My masterpiece of pent up emotions.
“First, I have to ask, are you a Trump supporter?”
Her eyes narrow. They take in my white skin, bald head, and beard. She’s clearly afraid to tell me the truth. “I prefer to leave politics out of this.”
I chuckle. “Well, I don’t. I wanna go on record as stating I am definitely not a Trump supporter. I titled this piece Trump’s America because I feel he’s messing up our country.”
She exhales as if she’s been holding her breath, then smiles. “Thank god. I can’t stand him either.”
We both laugh.
We spend the next ten minutes or so talking about Trump, art, and the effect of both on prisons. For those ten minutes I feel free, feel normal.
The Asian American girl then moves on and I hunt down a few more students and the professor to check out my painting. The conversations with them go pretty much the same. I am so grateful for the way these kind-hearted people treat me with dignity and respect. They and the University of Michigan are such a blessing to those of us who have made bad choices and landed in prison. I and all the others locked up here in Michigan thank them from the bottom of our hearts, and I ask anyone reading this to attend our annual art show and offer support.
Oh yeah, you’re also probably wondering whether Trump’s America made it into the show? It did. Again, I wish you could see it.
I’m Jerry Metcalf and I wish to make the world a better place. Please join me at Facebook.com
You can contact Jerry here:
Jerry Metcalf #251141
3225 John Conley Drive
Lapeer, MI 48446
email @ jpay.com