Queztal & Hummingbirds
I bought this beautiful pencil drawing a few months ago at an art show at the late, sadly missed, Midnight Special Bookstore in Santa Monica. They asked if they could keep it for the duration of the show, I said sure. It then went to Tia Chucha’s Cafe Cultural in Sylmar for another show, and I finally picked it up yesterday.
It’s by Jack Morris, who is an inmate in the dreaded Special Housing Units (SHU) in the fearsome Pelican Bay State Prison, the highest security California prison. In a SHU, you are in your cell 22 hours a day or more and the rule is “no human contact.” Speaking to others is not allowed. Sounds like cruel and unusual punishment to me. He’s been there for years.
You are not put in a SHU for the severity of your crime, you are put into a SHU because a guard says you are a gang member or were in contact with one. There is no appeal. The only way out is to be paroled, to die, or to be released back into the general population, at which point it will be assumed you snitched on someone.
From Jack’s handwritten note on the back of the drawing:
Color pens, pencils, and pastels are not allowed in the “hole.” The colors in this drawing were developed by scraping paper pulp out of old magazines.
Utilizing a rolled piece of toilet paper dipped in the pulp, I transfer it onto the drawing.
Additional colors are obtained from the coating of vitamins or coffee.
All the art in this show was by inmates. All the proceeds go to an organization Jack helped start called PROTECT (Prisoners Reaching Out to Educate Children and Teens), which works with at-risk youth.
Our interest is not in telling young people what is right or wrong – that’s their choice. Instead we believe we’re in a unique position of being able to point out the consequences of one’s actions, attempting to emphasize the importance of education as an alternative.
They do this through the only means open to them, letter writing.
Jack L.Morris C-06409
P.O. Box 7500 D7-217
Crescent City, CA 95532