A compendium of craft masquerading as art, art masquerading as craft, and craft extending its middle finger.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Prison Craft Roundup


Sunday's New York Times had an article about the use of origami on the television program Prison Break. Apparently, one of the main characters, an engineer by trade, has been figuring out the prison's plumbing system by dropping little origami cranes into the pipes, then finding out where they come out. The article gathered some dweeby feedback from various bulletin boards, wherein the writers express their disbelief that big ol' scary prisoners would have access to origami paper and instructions. In fact, origami is sort of a time-honored prison craft. The article goes on to quote a woman who taught origami in the Vermont prison system:

Paper is one of the few art supplies and creative outlets allowed in prison," said Teresa Volta, who taught origami several times a month for three years in two prisons in Vermont. Though her family and friends were alarmed by the job, Ms. Volta said their fears were put to rest with the first class, at the prison in Windsor, Vt., when the inmates eagerly took part and all got along. Ms. Volta said concentrating on folding had a calming effect. "It's amazing how many prisoners wanted to make flowers for their wives, girlfriends and children for visiting day," she added.
I scanned other articles on the internet that mentioned that when inmates can't get their hands on good paper supplies, they will use the foil lining from cereal boxes to make their creations. Arts and crafts, no matter how sissified, become a form of commerce inside the joint. Remember the Extreme Craft article on Ray Materson? He managed to find salvation in prison through EMBROIDERY! Check out Edinburgh Castle's article on historical prison craft. Here is another great link to an article on prison craft by interestingideas.com.Last but not least, check out Extreme Craft's gallery of crafts by Charles Manson, including glow-in-the-dark spiders and toilet paper sculpture.

LINK to NYTimes Article

7 Comments:

At 3/20/2006 11:56:00 AM, Anonymous dabney said...

a few years ago MASSMoCA had a great exhibit of inventive things that people made while in the big house, showing how creativity thrives in less than ideal conditions and can make life better. prisoners fashioned various tools - even an oven - out of toothbrushes, foil, what have you. i also remember a model of one of the prisoner's cells, very detailed, and completely to scale. they were all quite remarkable.

 
At 3/20/2006 12:01:00 PM, Anonymous sarah-maria said...

guess that shows my tv addiction, but the tv show you're talking about is Prison Break not Lost.

 
At 3/22/2006 03:36:00 PM, Blogger Garth Johnson said...

Thanks, Sarah-Maria...I realized the error of my ways while lying in bed later that night. Prison Break! That supposedly takes place in Nebraska, right?

 
At 4/04/2006 02:28:00 AM, Anonymous tmv said...

"The origami gal" here, as I am known at the men's prison where I volunteered to teach origami. The 45" conversation I had with the NY Times reporter was shortened into a couple of pithy points that the editors wanted to include...some of my unpublished comments: a) the men were not only interested in "flowers" but unit origami such as geometric models and boxes, as well as very complex models. An aside - one ex-convict I've corresponded with, from an origami listserve, has gone on to develop his own wonderful, complicated models and hopes to publish. b) As Garth mentioned, origami has a history on the inside. The fellows often *taught me* origami models. The guys called me "Teacher" - mostly to razz me when I couldn't remember a step! I always called myself a "faciliatator" -- supplying books, paper, encouragement, patience, and inspiration. c) Related to Garth's comment on arts & crafts becoming commerce on the inside -- one of my first experiences involved a fellow who admired his handiwork & exclaimed that he was going to fold a bunch of the models and sell them to guys at the commissary. At first I was annoyed -- then I realized that folks in my small rural community barter all the time, and just because I was in a different environment didn't mean I had the right to judge how someone used their creations, (as long as it was legal and did not constitute a threat to them or others.) And I guess creation, recognition, and renumeration are common themes among many artists... d)I shared many of my own books, as well as info about Sadoko, and people making money with origami -- Joseph Wu, as well as the way scientists & mathamaticians use origami (the mirror in the Hubble Telescope, for example,)and copyright issues concerning intellectual property, artistic images, etc. e) As Garth mentioned, "found paper" is common in the prisons and with folders in general. Maps, wrapping paper, business cards, money (contraband in most prisons,) cloth napkins, magazine pages, etc. f) How I got involved -- a happy accident -- as was how I learned origami to start with -- a Japanese friend taught us a crane, frog, and cicada at dinner one night & the models sat on my bookshelf for two years. Then, at a meeting, a friend who'd just returned from Japan was using this wonderfully patterned paper to fold cubes made with six identical units. She gave me one and my carpenter boyfriend & I immediately dissected it and made more! Then, as my grandmother (age 97) says, I "learned it from a book." I gave a friend an origami mobile, (no straight pieces of wire or wood but fanciful curliques and spirals,) which she hung in her office -- at prison, where she was a special ed teacher. The guys saw it & said, "Teach us that!" She said she couldn't, but knew who could...I had also worked with volunteers teaching a decision making class at a county jail in NH for the past 12 years, and had been inspired by their experiences (not "do-gooder" miracles!) and exposed to the challenges, so that I had a balanced outlook going in...in addition to the fact that I had a room mate whose niece was murdered in a drug deal, and was witness to her / the aunt's struggles...I also had a relative in a federal pen for smuggling drugs & even though I couldn't do much to support him, besides write letters, I could offer my time & talents to those inmates closer to my neighbors -- in the new facility a half mile from home! g)My friends and family said, "You're doing what where?" I have always felt safe at this facility -- the inmates respect & appreciate volunteers because they understand you are choosing to be there. I often did get questions from folks new to the sessions: "Are you getting paid?" "Are you writing a book?" "Are you getting class credit?" and my favorite, "Are you looking for a man?" My answer was always, "One can only eat, sleep, work, have sex, do drugs, and watch t.v. so much. Creating is important. I have literally survived because others have shared their arts & crafts (rug braiding & hooking, quilting, knitting, beading, chair caning,) with me." One situation was early on when the new prison complex was experiencing glitches with the power generators, and three folders & I ended up in the dark. Silence, then mock wrestling by the guys, then one said, "Hmmm, this is interesting," and we all laughed, but never did anyone touch or threaten me. And there were a couple of lockdowns which made me late for making my grandmother dinner, or late for work! h) The NY Times reporter googled something & found someone who led her to me -- I was sick at home & the last thing I expected was a call from a reporter, NY Times! So, you never know when a happy accident might present you the opportunity to share your story & that of others...

Lastly, I would just like to encourage artists, board game fanatics, poets, tax payers, yoga instructors, indeed anyone, to consider volunteering through your dept of corrections -- most facilities ave required training for volunteers re: the state's philosophy on corrections, security, rules (dress code, what is considered contraband, no contacting inmates' families, etc.)There are many vol opps on the outside too - mentoring children of inmates, working with spouses of inmates (more & more spouses on the outside are men,) being on a reparative probation or court diversion or pre-adjudication board, getting your church members to actively support an inmate upon their release (housing, work, etc.)to increse their odds of healthy living, etc. The "you're doing what where?" not only referred to people's fear for my safety, but often to their own perspectives on corrections / punishment / rehabilitation, etc. ...if for no other reason, for those of you who appreciate that most of these inmates will be released back into the community, and realize that poor social skills & lack of positive outlets are risk factors...or to give others the tools to meet their needs higher on Maslow's list...

or just because you might also get a lot of satisfaction out of sharing your time & talent with others, even if it is behind 100 locked doors and miles of concertina wire...

Sincerely, the loquacious "origami gal", quoted (briefly!)in the New York Times. jzmcrow@valley.net

P.S. I only get 12 channels on t.v. and have never seen Prison Break!

 
At 5/07/2006 02:55:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Prison break in nabraska:S ur talking crazy crap, its filmed in joliet, illinos.

 
At 8/23/2006 09:20:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

www.origamimagic.net for free samples

 
At 11/13/2009 11:43:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who knows where to download XRumer 5.0 Palladium?
Help, please. All recommend this program to effectively advertise on the Internet, this is the best program!

 

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