At the conclusion of the creation of the project, we asked participants to reflect on what the process was like for them. Here are excerpts from their responses.
The collaborative process was/is seamless because Kate is awesome and we have similar thoughts on what’s broken about the criminal legal system and the dire need to imagine and work toward something different. I believe her work inside various places of confinement helped us jump past an orientation on prisons and prison issues and right to the creative process.
I didn’t really go into the process thinking (consciously anyway) that anything in particular was important or necessary to include. Kate pointed out that in both my visualizing incarceration and freedom pieces, the theme of family and loved ones is present. As a result of our conversations, the impact of incarceration on families ended up front and center in our art. And I love that!
I learned that art is a highly effective way to tell a story about unspeakable issues, such as how a man who’s been locked up for 22 years answers questions about his inability to leave a visit room to his 7-year-old nephew.
What surprised me most is the final product (well the description of it because I’ve yet to see it). I guess I expected a painting since that’s the typical form of art I’m most familiar with. But art is SO vast and limitless. The greeting card idea – and others we ended up not using (at least not yet) really blew me away.
What does freedom mean to you?
Freedom to me is the ability to make choices about where my body will be on a given day and who I will share space with. This definition comes directly out of conversations between me and Kate. There are also freedoms of the non-physical variety that prison walls can’t confine. But for the purpose of this answer, I’ll stick to physical freedom.
Are there any excerpts from your correspondence together that you found particularly powerful that you’d be willing to share with us?
Excerpts:(from Kate to me)
“My experience working in prisons, I feel like you’ve captured something that’s a key feature in the prison experience: that the most human basic needs become reformatted into a series of protocols that insult your humanity every step of the way, right? Food, clothing, shelter, hygiene, water… we could make art for the next 10 years about how these basics are used to remind incarcerated people of their powerlessness and lack of agency.”
“In all your writings there is this idea that ‘your freedom’ or the freedom of any incarcerated person is linked to other people. It’s your physical body, but our freedom is spending our lives where and with who we want; so a piece of the freedom of all the people you love is taken by incarceration when you can’t be with them. Do you think it’d be interesting to explore how your sentence also robs the people in your life of some of their freedom? Personally, I think this concept is strong because it emphasizes how everyone in our society is robbed when incarceration is our primary tool for punishment and when so many people are locked up indefinitely.”
Describe the collaboration process that you and your partner developed. What was the hardest to convey to your collaborator? What was particularly important to you to make sure was included?
We started by a few quick emails, then had a great phone conversation mostly about Restorative Justice. I was overwhelmed by the strength of Phill’s writing. I wanted to be sure to make something that was as powerful as his writing and so it took me a while to come up with how to move forward. Honestly, it was a very easy collaboration… once the ideas came, the titles of our emails became things like “more ideas, now we’re flowing.” To me I wanted to make sure that Phill really felt like he saw his input in the work, that it was directly informed by his experiences & that we used his personal insight to speak to the experiences of many people.
What did you learn from this process? What were you surprised by?
I’ve never worked with anyone in prison who has access to email, this drastically improved our communication & ability to move forward with ideas. Phil’s energy & ideas were really generative for my creative process. I think at first I felt like it was my job to invent the art but once I re-engaged with him, our conversations were super generative and we thought of like 5 projects we want to complete.
What does freedom mean to you?
To me freedom exists when we are able to achieve our full selves accessing our full humanity, creativity & capacity to thrive in relationships that are both loving and challenging. A part of this includes defending this freedom for others & discovering fulfillment by experiencing the liberation of others.
Felix “Phill” Rosado is cofounder and co-coordinator of Let’s Circle Up, a restorative justice project based at Graterford State Prison. Originally from Reading, PA, he has been fighting a death by incarceration sentence since 1995. He also co-coordinates the Alternatives to Violence Project and is a member of the Inside-Out Graterford Think Tank. In 2016, he earned his Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies degree from Villanova University. He is an advisor to Decarcerate PA, as well as to Eastern State Penitentiary’s Prisons Today Exhibit and Returning Citizens Tour Guide Program. As a member of Right 2 Redemption (a founding organization of the Coalition to Abolish Death by Incarceration) and Lifelines, he seeks to end the practice of caging humans until death.
Kate DeCiccio is an artist, educator and cultural organizer with a background in mental health. Her work focuses on using portraiture for creating counter-narratives to address issues including police brutality, interrogating whiteness, the prison industrial complex, and gentrification. Before working full time as an artist, Kate taught at San Quentin Prison, Leadership High School, and Capitol Hill Arts workshop, and worked as a mental health and substance abuse counselor in a residential program designed to support successful community reintegration after an acute psychiatric break. Kate’s approach to storytelling and portraiture is informed by her experiences working in social services and studying the importance of personal narratives. Learn more at http://kdeciccio.wixsite.com/k8deciccio.