AWAKENING PRISON ART
is an American military veteran who served honorably in Vietnam and had a distinguished career as a photojournalist. Now serving a life sentence in a Southern prison, he is a practicing Buddhist deeply dedicated to spiritual study and meditative practice, as well as raising rescue dogs for an outside organization and serving his inmate veterans' group.
I have corresponded with Daishi for over 13 years. His letters reveal an acute intelligence and a sometimes heartbreaking sensitivity to beauty and human kindness. They tell of his grief over the death of his beloved sister, squalid living conditions in sweltering cells, and, always, his determination to find goodness and peace.
Like many prisoners, especially those without families, Daishi is indigent. He has no money for necessities like toothpaste, antiperspirant, skin lotion, stamps and envelopes, tea bags, and batteries for his radio, or for art supplies to replace the ones that guards arbitrarily confiscate. I have encouraged him to send me his work, which I make available to the outside world. His media include very finely-detailed drawings made with colored pencils, improvised tints on scraps of salvaged fabric, and ethereal paintings made by picking up colors from photographs in National Geographic magazines with a finger dipped in sunscreen.
evokes new, freer worlds conjured from within his own constricted world. Some are of imagined birds and other species — their eyes are particularly striking, gazing from their world into ours with determination, skepticism, joy, or apprehension. Other topics include loving portraits of dogs, "Sacred Spaces," abstracted Vietnam reminiscences, close-ups of found objects, and portraits of characters from other galaxies and dimensions, where the epic Floro Wars take place.
CLICK ON ANY IMAGE TO ENLARGE IT.
The scans below can't fully convey the delicacy of Daishi's line and his nuanced use of shade and color. The sizes listed are for the images themselves. Most are on acid-free paper at least a few inches bigger, with rough scallped edges — Daishi is not allowed to have scissors, so he has to cut his paper to size with his thumbnail.
UPDATE FALL 2018
Daishi is now facing two medical emergencies: he has broken his drawing thumb and has been diagnosed with invasive squamous cell carcinoma of the cheek. Despite his indigency, he is required to make copayments for his medical care. He has been transferred to a prison medical facility where conditions are, appallingly, worse than at his previous location — among other challenges, he is housed along with violent young psychiatric patients and is not receiving pain medication that has been prescribed for him Now is a better time than ever to support his work.