In my position as admin assistant for the National Park Service, I get to interact with the public in many different ways. One of which is processing requests for educational materials via phone, email, and postal mail. A few months ago, a gentleman requested information about some of the trails so I sent it out to him. .Today, I received an envelope filled with the most beautiful artwork… his interpretation of several sites along the trails.
What I appreciate most about this packet is that it came from a prison inmate. This is a man who is trying to turn his life around and leave a lasting legacy of beauty and love; he’s trying to make his mark on this world in a *positive* way. No matter the reason for his prison sentence, he is NOW choosing Joy and Light. That is huge!
I have a loved one serving a life sentence in prison and facing the possibility that he will never again see the light of day outside of bars. Because of this, I have learned a lot about our prison system from within the system. Prison is place where there isn’t a lot of hope and where aliveness and Light can actually be life threatening. It is a dark and despairing place and there are those in there who have succumbed to the darkness and seek to snuff out the Light. Those who choose to feel and express Joy and seek ways to BE Light, actually DO face the possibility of being killed for hoping, for being Light, for feeling joy. I have seen this. I have felt it. I have witnessed it through the eyes of my loved one and through my experience of sitting in the visiting rooms, surrounded by men who are feeling swallowed by the hopelessness and fighting, desperately, to not give into it.
Because of that, I understand on a very visceral level the importance of this art. This art is not only beautiful, it is an expression of HOPE. It is an expression of one man’s willingness to BE ALIVE and BE LIGHT in a place where darkness reigns. Rather than withering away in bitterness, anger, frustration, and desperation, this man is choosing to focus on creating beauty with the tools he has access to. He is generating Light and facing his own death, willingly, to make a positive difference wherever he can. He has chosen to not give in to the fear of death at the hand of darkness, and he is pursuing Light.
I know that many people believe that inmates are the lowest of the low, that they all “deserve to rot in hell,” that they will “never” be rehabilitated, that they are less than human, that they have no rights and deserve no privileges. I know there are many who would even be disgusted that this man was “allowed” to paint. No matter what any of you who are able to read this because you are not behind bars and cut off from the world feel about those who are locked up, HOPE is the only way they survive in there. And for some of the inmates, there is no reason to feel hope.
I am grateful this man has found his pathway to HOPE and a reason to go on. No matter what he did to get himself in there, I am grateful he has chosen to find a way to the Light and that he wants to share it with the world.
What a beautiful, beautiful treasure I have here in my hands… a tangible representation of the human will to live: HOPE!