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.
Concerning the collaboration process that me and Alma developed, it was kind of like an easy game of Connect 4 where we were playing against a blank canvas. Alma would send me a sketch of her overall thought of my words, symbolically dropping a chip in the slot. I would drop my chip, worth an idea. Alma would drop another chip, then another. Then, CONNECT 4!!! The piece was done.
What was particularly important for me was to make sure that Alma included in the “image from your daily life” piece the Code of Conduct book, thrown in with the junk of the prison. In my experience throughout years in prison is that when it benefits the prison, the guard, and their thought of justice or punishment, the Code of Conduct & Ethics goes in the garbage.
What was important in the freedom piece that I wanted to make sure was included is the showing of the woman’s arms reaching with enough understanding & care to know that precise and delicate hands will be needed to mend again a layered man with forgotten dreams like myself. Another thing that was important for me to show in that piece is my long forgotten dream of having a child. Having a child represents freedom to me. I never thought that I would have the opportunity again.
What I learned from this collaborative process was how complimentary words are to imagery and imagery are to words; yet, the two can give individual’s completely different avenues to reach a higher level of insight. With this process, the words seem to be aimed at inviting the reader to the writer’s view, understanding and experiences, which is great for clear interpretation. While the imagery seems to invite the viewer to the writer’s view, understanding and experiences through the viewer’s own interpretation. I believe when one’s own interpretation is called upon it has no choice but to conjure direct stimulation to what I see as one of the forgotten wonders of the world — Empathy.
Freedom to me is the ability of one to make and carry out choice without manipulation, persuasion, influence or force from any outside entity. As it relates to criminal justice, freedom would look like officials, such as judges, being absent of lobbyists, politicians, and distorted public influence that contradicts righteousness and rightness. Freedom would look like District Attorneys devoid of pressure to use deviant tactics, like stockpiling charges for maximum sentencing, in order to reach job performance quotas. Freedom in the league of criminal justice would allow Public Defenders to perform adequately, without force of settlements/plea deals due to restriction of resources and overwhelming caseloads. It would look like a public that is able to resolve legal matters without being subject to inherent bias, prejudices or preferred treatment. All in all, freedom is a space where human beings are allowed to experience an unlimited amount of empathy for one another, and able to act on that empathy without bother.
To me, freedom means choice. Choice is the most powerful thing we can have - we are born with certain choices available to us, and our choices can lead to further choice or restrictions. There are many institutional structures put in place to limit our choices for us. Often as we grow up, we struggle to see which choices are always ours, which we feel ok negotiating on and to what end, which choices have been taken away that must be taken back. To me, freedom is the ability to choose.
Clinton Walker is a an avid reader, a writer, and a poet. His poetry has been published in Apiary Magazine. He’s also a self-proclaimed singer, though many who have heard his vocals would strongly disagree. Though he’s had few opportunities for academic achievement, he takes pride in the fact that he’s been able to develop a strong mental strength and character despite the horrors, hardships, and assaults of the prison system. Originally from Philadelphia, he’s been serving a Juvenile Life Without Parole sentence for the last 18 years.
Alma Sheppard-Matsuo is a queer hāfu artist, visual storyteller, and educator from New York, currently based in Philadelphia. They received their BFA in traditional animation from the School of Visual Arts (NYC) in 2010. After graduation, they worked in the streets with radical puppetry groups like The People’s Puppets, Bread & Puppet and Great Small Works on issues ranging from migrant rights to the debt crisis to environmental justice. This work developed their emphasis on visual narrative as a necessary and useful tool of advocacy in social justice. Alma’s illustration work has been featured in numerous publications, as well as in galleries and public spaces across the country. After teaching visual art in NYC for years, they have relocated to Philadelphia where they are a middle school ELA teacher and continue making art. Learn more at https://bunnymermaid.tumblr.com/.