Donald "C-Note" Hooker
The world's most prolific Prisoner Artist
This is the Official Website
documenting the interdisciplinary artistic career of Los Angeles Prisoner Artist, Donald "C-Note" Hooker, via certificates, awards, event flyers, and some press releases, for research, journalism, and other academic purposes.
C-Note is a poet, playwright, performing artist, award winning visual artist, and is known as the King of Prison Hip Hop. His works have either been exhibited, performed, recited, or sold, from Alcatraz to Berlin. In 2017, Google Search listed him in their search results, as both America's, and the world's most prolific prisoner-artist.
Becoming known is a daunting task for any artist, difficult at best; but especially so, when you are walled off from the rest of the world. Every prisoner artist faces an overwhelming task for their work to be seen over the prison wall. With the advent of arts-in-corrections, prisoners are being taught by career professionals in the arts. Prisoners are now given certificates, awards, and other laudatory chronos from respected cultural organizations, including Universities. Would this type of information impact your view on this walled-off segment in our Society? Such information could be made useful to parties on both sides of the prison wall.
C-Note started doing poetry in his mid-teens for the R&B, Rap, and Country and Western lyrics he would write. These lyrics were quite catchy, and his friends and family would often find themselves singing them. Since his incarceration, he has developed the skill to do micro poems, just four lines, and epic poems, that are over 700-words.
Once Upon A Time... (Spoken Floz, Music Version) 2015
The music version to Once Upon A Time... was released in 2015 on Soundcloud. It was the first publicly released recording of Spoken-Floz set to music. Spoken Floz is an eclectic blend of hip hop, poetry, and spoken word. The hybird is attributed to Jimmy "Natidapoet" McMillian, a California state prisoner. It strongly reflects the new forms of art that are being created behind America's prison walls.
Former California prisoner, Jr Wagner, aka jRiZzz, produced the beat. In 2014, jRiZzz began selling Beats to rappers. In a space of a year, he sold more than 400 exclusive Beats from his SoundCloud page. He then used the money to become a registered and licensed publisher with BMI. In 2016, he started his own label, jRiZzz MuZik World. Shortly thereafter, he teamed up with two other independent labels to become a co-venture partnership. The three labels, working together from different countries, promote music in their combined SoundCloud network of over 2 million followers.
In 2015, jRiZzz and C-Note teamed up. Working over the phone, they created a truly collaborative work between an artist and his beat maker. Once Upon A Time..., the music version, utilizes C-Note's storytelling prowess, laid over a Dr. Dre inspired, jRiZzz's beat. The result, a remarkable docu-drama of going from the Penthouse to The Big House, and is an excellent example of Hip Hop's MCing or Rapping roots, that emanated from the African American prison storytellers. This tale is further exacerbated with C-Note's creation of the cover art to the single, that gives contrast to the two contrasting lifestyles.
Natidapoet Flowin | Neo Jim Crow Art (videos)
"Spoken Floz," Prisoners Retake Over of Hip Hop | darealprisonart
Art Escape On Alcatraz 2017
In 2017 he created a work entitled, Tho Her Name Is Not Gibraltar She's Still Called The Rock. It was created for the Prisoner Art exhibition, Art Escape On Alcatraz. This exhibit was held on the Island of Alcatraz in the San Francisco Bay, in the United States, in the State of California. Part of the Exhibition included two off sites in California's Bay Area. This work was exhibited at one of the off site Exhibitions. Tho Her Name Is Not Gibraltar was displayed at the architect, Frank Lloyd Wright's, Marin County Civic Center Complex at the Marin County Free Library's, Anne T. Kent California Room.
THO HER NAME IS NOT GIBRALTAR, STILL SHE'S CALLED THE "ROCK" | Mprisondpoetz
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In the late 80s, C-Note was housed in the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's Men's County Jail's High Power Unit. This unit housed some of the nation's worst criminals and criminal minds in the county and in the nation. The seed to become a visual artist, painter, was planted in this environment. To fully grasp this environment and why it was impactful, it is necessary to list some of the men who either resided on the same housing unit tiers with C-Note; were in close proximity to these tiers and they were in verbal contact; or were neither, but were able to communicate by other means.
Richard Ramirez (1962-2013), was in custody for, and convicted of, a series of crime spree home invasions. He was convicted of 11 counts of sexual assault, including rape; 14 counts of burglary; and 13 counts of murder. In L.A. folklore, he was dubbed The Night Stalker.
Eddie Nash (1929-2014), was in custody for, and acquitted of, being The Mastermind in the bludgeoning death of five people at the hands of his bodyguard and legendary pornstar John Holmes (1944-1988). In L.A. folklore, the murders are known as the Wonderland murders, and were portrayed in the 2003 film Wonderland, starring Val Kilmer as John Holmes.
Brothers Neil Woodman (1950- ), and Stewart Woodman (1944 - 2014); and brothers, former Los Angeles Police Officer Steve Hornick (1940 - 2014), and former Los Angeles attorney Robert Cormac, were in custody for, and convicted of, the contract killing of the Woodmans' parents. In L.A. folklore, these murders were dubbed the Ninja killings or the Yom Kippur murders.
Brothers, Joseph Lyle Menéndez (1968 - ), and Erik Galen Menéndez (1970 - ), were in custody for, and convicted of, the murder of their parents.
Joe Hunt (1959 - ), founder of the Billionaire Boys Club (BBC), was in custody for, and convicted of, the murder of top BBC investor Ron Levin. Levin's body has never been found. In an October 22nd, 2018, article by Los Angeles Times staff writer, Richard Winton, he begins his article, "Before OJ Simpson, before Erik and Lyle Menéndez, there was Joe Hunt."
Fred "Fat Fred" Knight (1967 - ), was in custody for, and acquitted of, five murders in South Central Los Angeles. In L.A. folklore, they were dubbed the 54th Street Massacre, and are the worst incident of gang violence in L.A. history.
Virgil Byers (1962 - ), was in custody for, and convicted of, two counts of murder involving two drive-by shootings in 1982. In L.A. folklore, these are considered L.A.'s first drive-by shootings.
Rene "Boxer" Enriquez (1962 - ), was in custody for, and convicted of, two murders. In 1985, Enriquez became a made member of the Mexican Mafia (EME). In 91', Enriquez stabbed EME leader Salvador "Mon" Buenrostro, 30-times in a lawyer's interview room at the jail. In 1993, he was sent to Pelican Bay State Prison. In 2003 he defected from the EME. Since then, while under custodial escort, he has been allowed to go outside of prison to lecture college students, help teach a course on gangs at UC Irvine, and given a lecture to business executives on how to run a transnational enterprise, just to name a few. All this has taken place while still being imprisoned for murder.
John "Youngster" Stinson (1954 - ), was in custody to be resentenced on a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. Since that time, he was federally indicted in 2002. The indictment stemmed from his leadership as a member of the Aryan Brotherhood. This indictment, dating back to criminal enterprise activities from 1979, included 32 murders.
At some point in time, Knight a Blood, Byers a Crip, Enriquez an EME, Stinson an AB, Hunt ran a Bernie Madoff type ponzi scheme, and Nash owned nightclubs, had resided on the same cell block tier as C-Note. These names are just a small sample size of the hundred plus criminal elite that were housed in High-Power during this time. Amongst these elite was the pastime of reading classical and modern literature. The classics included the 5th Century book The Art of War by Chinese author Sun Tzu, the 1513 book The Prince by Italian author Niccolò Machiavelli, the 1645 book A Book Of Five Rings by Japanese author Miyamoto Musashi, and the modern classic, the 1937 book Think and Grow Rich by American author Napoleon Hill. Their contemporaneous equivalent would be the three classics written by American author Robert E. Greene, The 48 Laws of Power, The Art of Seduction, and The 33 Strategies of War. Greene's books are based on these classical concepts and cite them as references. In a December 30th, 2006, article in the Los Angeles Times by Joe Mozingo, he reports, "During six weeks of testimony in Griffin's and Stinson's trial, the jury was introduced to a sordid, treacherous, unflinchingly violent world -- where "brothers" smuggle knives and messages in their rectums, where they study law and Machiavelli and ancient code-writing to manipulate the system, and where the slightest suspicion of snitching calls for instant death." As noted, Federal officials are in fear of these books, and California has banned them, including Greene's books from their prison system.
At the age of 23-24, rap royalty Tupac Shakur began his prison sentence in New York. He too was segregated from the general population in one of these extremely segregated housing units. While there, he read Machiavelli's The Prince. Shakur was so influenced by the classic, he changed his rap moniker to Makaveli. Similarly, C-Note 22-23, was near the same age that Tupac was when he was exposed to this material and men. It should be noted, Stinson's crimee was an EME who taught C-Note sign language and Aztecan culture. The book that influenced C-Note to become a painter was Musashi's A Book Of Five Rings. The cover to the book states, "The classic texts of principles, crafts, skill, and Samurai strategy that change the American way of doing business!" On the surface, these words on the cover would have one to believe this book would help American businessmen to compete with the Japanese. At the time, the Japanese were perceived as cleaning the American clock in business. Before America's obsession with the Chinese economic threat, there was the Japanese economic threat in the late 80s early 90s. The headline to a January 18th, 2013, article in the Business Insider by Rob Wile reads, "The True Story Of The 1980s, When Everyone Was Convinced Japan Will Buy America." The article uses headlines from Across the Nation at the time to drive home this point. Here is just a small sample of the headlines that were used in the article: In 1989, "Asian investors buying another L.A. Landmark"; In 1988, "Japanese firm to buy Firestone in cash deal"; In 1989, "Sony buys Columbia pictures for 4.4b"; In 1989, "Mitsubishi buys half of the Rockefeller Centre"; In 1991, "Japanese company agrees to sell Yosemite concession." As one can read, based upon the cover text on A Book Of Five Rings, and the national headline news during the time, it would be logical to assume, Five Rings would be addressing America's corporate competition with the Japanese. However, to C-Note's unsuspecting surprise, this was a total bait-and-switch. A Book Of Five Rings had nothing to do with corporate competition, but with lethal martial weapons. The book is on the science of weaponry. Because the book turned out to be on hand to hand combat in the use of weaponry, it interested C-Note. C-Note had always had an interest in martial arts, although never formally trained. Incarceration is an environment that lends itself in being competent in defending oneself. The book stressed, to spend one's past time from training by picking up the brush. In the 2004 American release of the Chinese film Hero, starring Jet Li, the film highlights the constant exercise of doing calligraphy in the sand. It is similar to Musashi's admonishments to pick up the brush. These exercises will improve one's ability in martial combat.
On January 1st, 2000, while the world was concerned about the Y2K bug, C-Note was in administrative segregation, the hole, in High Desert State Prison, as a result of a prison riot between African Americans and prison guards in November of 1999. It was during this stint in the hole, at the age of 34, he decided to begin his decade long desire since reading A Book Of Five Rings to begin to take up the brush.
Through the Wall: Prison Arts Collective 2016
In the Spring of 2016, C-Note was given the opportunity to participate in a first-in-the-nation, Prisoner Art exhibit. This exhibit consisted of artists from two men prisons, and one women prison. These prisons were the California Institution for Men (CIM), the California State Prison, Los Angeles County (CSP-LAC), and the California Institution for Women (CIW). The exhibit was curated by the California State University at San Bernardino (CSUSB). The exhibit, Through the Wall: Prison Arts Collective, was held at the CB1-Guest gallery in Downtown, Los Angeles, May 14th - 29th. The work he submitted, entitled, Mprisond (2014),was a mixed-medium of wax, graphite, and pastel, on paper, 9" x 12".
You can find the full works of the exhibit, and C-Note's work, Mprisond, at the CSUSB website:
Through the Wall: Prison Arts Collective | California State University, San Bernardino Research | CSUSB ScholarWorks
"Mprisoned" by California State Prison, Los Angeles County
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In the early 80s, C-Note began experimenting with marijuana. One of his favorite pastimes while under the influence was to watch the ABC television soap opera, General Hospital. At the time, the characters Luke and Laura were all the rage. Their November 16th, 1981, television wedding drew an audience of 30 million viewers. This was nearly double the American television audience for the British royal wedding of Prince Charles of Wales, and Lady Diana Frances Spencer. Their wedding also took place in 1981, nearly 100 days prior to Luke and Laura's. Luke and Laura's television wedding still stands as the highest rated hour in American soap opera history. Inspired by the show's characters and plot lines, this inspired him to become an actor. He began by hanging out at the world-renowned Pasadena Playhouse, however, he quickly found himself discouraged in this pursuit, as he did not see many African Americans in the industry, let alone, wearing long perms. In his late teens, he found himself in youth prison where he was praised for his short stories. In his early thirties, he found himself in prison with a very long prison sentence as a result of California's three-strikes law.
Redemption In Our State of Blues 2015
In the summer of 2015, Michael Bierman and Meri Pakarinen of The Strindberg Laboratory brought their theater production work to the California State Prison, Los Angeles County, commonly referred to locally as Lancaster, or the prison in Lancaster. Lancaster is a city in the North Valley of Los Angeles County and is a part of the Mojave Desert. The Mojave desert is an arid rainshadow desert, and the driest desert in North America. The desert includes Death Valley which is 282 ft below sea level, and is the lowest point in North America. In 1913, the United States Weather Bureau recorded a high temperature of 134 degrees Fahrenheit 56.7 Celsius at Furnace Creek in Death Valley. It stands as the highest temperature ever recorded on the surface of the Earth. Prior to California's prison expansion in 1984, which first occurred on an already existing prison site in Tehachapi, most other prisons existed in the northern part of the state. As the state's prison population began to swell in the late 80s, there began a groundswell of complaints from Northern Communities. These complaints were about Los Angeles gang bangers being released from area prisons and allowed to roam their communities without supervision. Simultaneously, a Los Angeles backlash from prisoners' families of complaints regarding travel to these Northern locations for visitation. It became clear from these competing interests that a prison would have to be built in Los Angeles, but where? The debate at the time was in downtown Los Angeles, or a more urban Suburban part of the county. The Mojave Desert is not that, as it is Desert and CSP-LAC is 83 miles from downtown Los Angeles.
In 1993, the prison opened. That same year, in the neighboring City of Palmdale, a cross was burned on the home of an African American couple. In less than 5 years from the prison's opening, both the FBI and US Attorney office had to beef up its attorneys and agents to meet the Antelope Valley's growing demand of investigations and prosecutions of hate crimes. Incidents included three members of a skinhead gang firing shots at four African Americans; four skinheads were involved in the beating of an African American woman; three skinheads beat and stabbed an African American youth while walking to school; an African American was struck with a baseball bat; one adult and two juveniles beat and stabbed a 16-year-old African American in Lancaster. A twenty-three-year-old self-proclaimed skinhead in Lancaster was connected with two separate attacks on Black men. By 1997, 13 people had been prosecuted for either hate crimes or Civil Right violations. The U.S. Department of Justice was concerned that white supremacist were trying to frighten minorities away from the area's working-class suburbs.
2001 saw the worst incident of violence since the prison's opening. It involved 300 prisoners. Three prisoners were airlifted to area hospitals after suffering deep stab wounds from crude knives made from prisoners. Two prisoners with less serious injuries from being shanked were taken by ambulance to area hospitals; while others were treated at the prison's infirmary. It was unclear what started the incident, however, it began just as the prison ended a 9-day lockdown stemming from the attack on a prison guard. The year previous, a riot took place involving over 120 prisoners. The year before that, a prison guard was shot during a prisoner riot. As a result of these riots and the community outcry of prisoners permanently being housed at Lancaster, it was successfully lobbied to turn the prison into a reception. A Prison Reception Center houses prisoners arriving from County jails and houses them for 90 days before transferring them somewhere permanently. Despite becoming a reception facility, Lancaster did keep one of its yards to house prisoners permanently, the Honor program on A-yard.
The Honor Yard Program at California State Prison-Los Angeles County (CSP-LAC), was created in 2000, and is a voluntary program where inmates pledge to follow prison rules and not engage in gang activity, violence, illegal drugs and disruptive behavior. Honor Yard inmates submit to mandatory drug testing and participate in vocational, educational, juvenile diversion, life skills, and other rehabilitative endeavors. In 2009, the prison began to permanently house prisoners involved in the Sensitive Needs program. In 2011, the prison began to permanently house General Population prisoners. By 2015, all of its prison yards permanently housed prisoners. It's Minimum yard held minimum security prisoners. The rest of its yards were considered maximum security, level IV yards, but there was a caveat. A-yard was an Honor yard, known as the Progressive Programming yard. It received local, national, international press coverage, and an HBO special. B-yard was General Population. C-yard was Sensitive Needs, and D-yard was EOP, an Enhanced Outpatient Program for the mentally ill.
Los Angeles is the gang capital of the Planet. Several transnational gangs have their origins in the city of Los Angeles, the Crips, Bloods, 18th Street, and MS-13. While Los Angeles is the U.S.'s second most populous city, Los Angeles County is the U.S.'s most populous county. It is nearly double the population of the second most populous county, Cook County, wherein lies the city of Chicago. Besides L.A.County, the region known as the Greater Los Angeles area, is a megapolitan with a population of nearly 19 million people.
The California prison system is home to some very enterprising and violent National and transnational prison gangs, the Aryan Brothers (AB), Nuestra Familia (NF), Mexican Mafia (EME), and Black Guerilla Family (BGF). Members of these prison gangs are frequently prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice for murder and other criminal enterprise crimes. Validated members of these prison gangs were held in long-term solitary confinement. In 2015, long-term solitary confinement ended in the California prison system. Prisoners formerly housed in Pelican Bay's Shu or Corcoran's Shu, the other long-term solitary confinement housing unit, we're now released to the mainline or to the general population. The B-yard at Lancaster received and housed these prisoners.
Prison guards in California are generally drawn from the surrounding community from which a prison is located. The land mass of California is the U.S. third largest state, and has prisons throughout its territory. This includes the lumber mills in the North, to the watermelon pickers in the South. Lancaster drew its guards from this huge metropolis, and is one of the state's few prisons to reflect California's status as a majority-minority state. This meant its prison guards are drawn from gang culture Los Angeles. Los Angeles gang culture as exemplified in gangster rap, has had a stronghold in the region and on the world for a very long, long time. It's guards were gang members, still gang members, and if they weren't in a gang, prison guard versus prisoner culture, creates an us-versus-them mentality that makes prison guards behave like gang members. This is the environment The Strindberg Laboratory found itself in when it brought its program to the B-yard at Lancaster.
The Steinberg Laboratory had never worked inside of a prison. However, it did have theater training experience inside the Los Angeles County Jail, the largest jail on Earth. It's other experience came with working with the homeless on Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles. Bierman's work had already drawn interest from the media publication People, and we're allowed to film him working with the prisoners on B-Yard. From the prison administration's standpoint, it was a disaster. They took issue with the prisoners' creative content, and accused prisoners of throwing up gang signs during People's filming. As a result, the media was banned, and the future of putting on a play was seriously in doubt. Upon hearing this news, the prisoners were upset. This is when C-Note took charge. Being an OG in both gang and prison culture, he commanded a level of respect from all gangs and races. He told them it wasn't about them, it was about the prison administration, and that he was going to put on a performance of such magnitude, the prison administration will want to show this to the world. However, this is an ensemble, and they all had to do this too.
C-Note saw this is an opportunity to get his creative expression over the prison wall. He had been rebuffed for over a decade and a half. It is the reason why he stopped writing raps, and started drawing pictures. He had suffered serious PTSD from his 13-years at High Desert State Prison. A prison so remote, like Pelican Bay, one had to travel outside of the State of California before arriving to its location in the state. Besides being isolated, it was the worst prison in the state. Pelican Bay would send its worst general population prisoners to High Desert. Once there, these prisoners would complain how it was worse than Pelican Bay.
In early December they were allowed to put on their play. The cast demanded C-Note be their opening act. Another prisoner came up with the name Redemption in Our State of Blues. The play ran for a week, and was a success. In late January, The Strindberg Laboratory returned to tell the cast they needed to do the play again. Upon hearing the news, the cast became angry. They were tired of the play and had looked forward to something new. Upon seeing their reaction, C-Note chimed in to ask them what were they upset about? Wasn't this the game plan all along? They had gotten just what he had been telling them, a demand by the administration for the whole world to see them perform. The encore run brought in media, both locally and Statewide. Other interested parties included Hollywood, such as Sofía Vergara's husband Joe Manganiello, Hangover movie producer Scott Budnick, and others. Political leaders and/or their representatives, from California Governor Jerry Brown, Mayor of Los Angeles Eric Garcetti, and former Obama Labor Secretary, and Los Angeles County Board of Supervisor Hilda Solis. Redemption inspired the funding to launch "BREAK IT TO MAKE IT (BITMI): Busting Barriers for the Incarcerated Project, Los Angeles, California." A first in the nation prison reentry project. It provides two years of free housing from the Los Angeles Mission . Two years of free education from the Los Angeles City College,and participation in the jails to jobs program of actual paid theatrical work with the theater group, The Strindberg Laboratory.
Birth Of A Salesman was the opening act to Redemption in Our State of Blues. It was written by C-Note, in which he played the lead character Money Mike. While Birth Of A Salasman is C-Note's antithesis to Arthur Miller's play Death Of A Salesman, and included a cast of six, including the audience, Publishers have only seemed interested in publishing scenes of C-Note acting solo.
Birth Of A Salesman | Prison Foundation
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