Imprisoned African American Poets You Should Know
April is poetry month, and we are featuring twentieth and twenty-first Century current and formally imprisoned African American poets.
Has anyone ever told you of the immense impact of African American imprisoned poets on culture in general? How their poetics are creating new dynamics, not only in the world of poetry, but in the visual art world as well? Well, if no one has ever pointed these things out to you, that's sad. However, there's still hope for you, read on to learn about some of the greatest incarcerated African American Poets of the 21st and 20th Century.
Etheridge Knight made his name as an imprisoned African American poet with the release of his 1968 debut book Poems from Prison. It is a poetry recital of his eight-year term of imprisonment. His second book, published in Italy under the title Voce negre dal carcere, appeared in English in 1970 as Black Voices from Prison.
Knight dropped out of high school and joined the army during the Korean war. Wounded, he returned home with an injury that led to a drug addiction. He was convicted of robbery in 1960 and served eight years in the Indiana State Prison. His first book of poetry Poems from Prison included the following text on its back cover: "I died in Korea from a shrapnel wound, and narcotics resurrected me. I died in 1960 from a prison sentence and poetry brought me back to life."
Knight was married to poet Sonia Sanchez, and both were important members of the poets and artists connected to the Black Arts Movement. The goal of the movement was to inspire collective action and develop Black cultural identities distinct from dominant white power structures. Knight's work was immediately lauded as "another excellent example of the powerful truth of blackness in art," wrote Shirley Lumpkin in the Dictionary of Literary Biography. "His work became important in Afro-American poetry and poetics and in the strain of Anglo-American poetry descended from Walt Whitman."
Much of Knight's prison poetry, according to Patricia Liggins Hill in Black American Literature Forum focuses on imprisonment as a form of contemporary enslavement and looks for ways in which one can be free despite incarceration. Time and space are significant in the concept of imprisonment, and Hill indicates that "specifically, what Knight relies on for his prison poetry are various temporal/spatial elements which allow him to merge his personal consciousness with the consciousness of Black people." Hill believes that this merging of consciousness "sets him apart from the other new Black poets... [who] see themselves as poets/ priests... Knight sees himself as being one with Black people."
Knight went on to attain recognition as a major poet, earning both Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award nominations for Belly Song and Other Poems (1973). Knight's honors and awards included fellowships and prizes from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Poetry Society of America. In 1990 he earned a bachelor's degree in American poetry and criminal justice from Martin Center University in Indianapolis. Knight died in 1991.
BY ETHERIDGE KNIGHT
Once upon a today and yesterday and nevermore there were 7 men and women all locked / up in prison cells. Now these 7 men and women were innocent of any crimes; they were in prison because their skins were black. Day after day, the prisoners paced their cells, pining for their freedom. And the non-black jailers would laugh at the prisoners and beat them with sticks and throw their food on the floor. Finally, prisoner #1 said, "I will educate myself and emulate the non-colored people. That is the way to freedom-c'mon, you guys, and follow me." "Hell, no," said prisoner #2. "The only way to get free is to pray to my god and he will deliver you like he delivered Daniel from the lion's den, so unite and follow me." "Bullshit," said prisoner #3. "The only way / out is thru this tunnel i've been quietly digging, so c'mon, and follow me." "Uh-uh," said prisoner #4, "that's too risky. The only right / way is to follow all the rules and don't make the non-colored people angry, so c'mon brothers and sisters and unite behind me." "Fuck you!" said prisoner #5, "The only way / out is to shoot our way out, if all of you get / together behind me." "No," said prisoner #6, "all of you are incorrect; you have not analyzed the political situation by my scientific method and historical meemeejeebee. All we have to do is wait long enough and the bars will bend from their own inner rot. That is the only way." "Are all of you crazy," cried prisoner #7. "I'll get out by myself, by ratting on the rest of you to the non-colored people. That is the way, that is the only way!" "No-no," they / all cried, "come and follow me. I have the / way, the only way to freedom." And so they argued, and to this day they are still arguing; and to this day they are still in their prison cells, their stomachs / trembling with fear.
"A Fable" from The Essential Etheridge Knight, by Etheridge Knight, © 1986.
Reginald Dwayne Betts
Betts started reading and writing poetry during his incarceration. A single book, Dudley Randall's The Black Poets, slid under his cell while in solitary confinement, introduced him to a world of poets and poetry that made him believe words can be carved into a kind of freedom.
He read Robert Hayden for the first time, Sonia Sanchez, Lucille Clifton, and saw the poet as not just utilitarian but as serving art. He discovered that a poem can give somebody a whole world. Prior to that, he had considered becoming a writer and writing a novel; however, nearly a year-and-a-half of solitary confinement living with these Black Poets took him down a path of the way of the Poet.
House of Unending
BY REGINALD DWAYNE BETTS
The sinner's bouquet, house of shredded & torn
Dear John letters, upended grave of names, moon
Black kiss of a pistol's flat side, time blueborn
& threaded into a curse, Lazarus of hustlers, the picayune
Spinning into beatdown; breath of a thief stilled
By fluorescent lights, a system of 40 blocks,
Empty vials, a hand full of purple cranesbills,
Memories of crates suspended from stairs, tied in knots
Around streetlamps, the house of unending push-ups,
Wheelbarrows & walking 20s, the daughters
Chasing their fathers' shadows, sons that upset
The wind with their secrets, the paraphrase of fractured,
Scarred wings flying through smoke, each wild hour
Of lockdown, hunger time & the blackened flower.
Of lockdown, hunger time & the blackened flower -
Ain't nothing worth knowing. Prison becomes home;
The cell: a catacomb that cages and the metronome
Tracking the years that eclipse you. History authors
Your death, throws you into that din of lost hours.
Your mother blames it all on your X chromosome,
Blames it on something in the blood, a Styrofoam
Cup filled with whiskey leading you to court disfavor,
To become drunk on count-time & chow-call logic.
There is no name for this thing that you've become:
Convict, hostage, inmate, lifer, yardbird, all fail.
If you can't be free, be a mystery. An amnesic.
Anything. But avoid succumbing to the humdrum:
Swallowing a bullet or even just choosing to inhale.
Swallowing a bullet or even just choosing to inhale,
Both mark you: pistol or the blunt to the head
Escorting you through the night. Your Yale-
An omen, the memories, the depression, the dead
And how things keep getting in the way of things.
When he asked you for the pistol, and you said no,
The reluctance wasn't about what violence brings.
His weeping in your ear made you regret what you owed.
On some days, the hard ones, you curse the phone,
The people calling collect, reaching out, all buried,
Surrounded by bricks. On some days, you've known
You wouldn't answer, the blinking numbers as varied
As the names of the prisons holding on to those lives,
Holding on, ensuring that nothing survives.
Holding on, ensuring that nothing survives,
Not even regret. That's the thing that gets you,
Holding on to memories like they're your archives,
Like they're there to tell you something true
About what happened. My past put a skew
On how I held her. Unaccustomed to touch,
I knew only dream & fantasy. Try to see through
That mire and find intimacy. It was just so much.
& then, the yesterdays just become yesterday,
A story that you tell yourself about not dying,
Another thing, when it's mentioned, to downplay.
That's what me and that woman did, trying
To love each other. What kind of fool am I,
Lost in what's gone, reinventing myself with lies.
Lost in what's gone, reinventing myself with lies:
I walk these streets, ruined by what I'd hide.
Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine.
I barely see my daughters at all these days.
Out here caught up, lost in an old cliché.
But tell me, what won't these felonies betray?
Did a stretch in prison to be released to a cell.
Returned to a freedom penned by Orwell.
My noon temptation is now the Metro's third rail.
In my wallet, I carry around my daguerreotype,
A mugshot, no smiles, my name a tithe.
What must I pay for being this stereotype?
The pistols I carried into the night, my anchor;
The crimes that unraveled me, my banner.
The crimes that unraveled me-my banner.
Only a fool confesses to owning that fact.
Honesty a sinkhole; the truth doomed to subtract
Everything but prayer, turn my breath into failure.
Whiskey after prison made me crave amber,
Brown washing my glass until I'm smacked.
The murder of crows on my arm an artifact
Of freedom: what outlasts even the jailor.
Alas, there is no baptism for me tonight.
No water to drown all these memories.
The rooms in my head keep secrets that indict
Me still; my chorus of unspoken larcenies.
You carry that knowledge into your twilight,
& live without regret for your guilty pleas.
& live without regret for your guilty pleas-
Shit. Mornings I rise twice: once for a count
That will not come & later with the city's
Wild birds, who find freedom without counsel.
I left prison with debts no honest man could pay.
Walked out imaging I'd lapped my troubles,
but a girl once said no to my closed ears, dismayed
that I didn't pause. Remorse can't calm those evils.
I've lost myself in some kind of algebra
That turns my life into an equation that zeroes
Out, regardless of my efforts. Algophobia
Means to fear pain. I still fear who knows
All I've done. Why regret this thing I've worn?
The sinner's bouquet; house, shredded & torn.
© 2010 by Reginald Dwayne Betts
In prison, Betts was renamed Shahid, meaning "witness", and since his release, has earned an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Warren Wilson College, and a Juris Doctor degree from Yale Law School. He served on President Obama's Coordinating Council of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, and founded Freedom Reads, an organization that gives incarcerated people access to books.
In 2014, BL Shirelle crossed racial and musical genres as a performer in the music group B.L. Shirelle, as they performed before TedX on the prison grounds of Muncy State Prison.
Muncy is a women's prison run by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. It houses medium and maximum security inmates, including those on death row.
After her release in 2015, she was contacted by Fury Young. Young, who is a New York music producer, saw the TedX recording of the performances. At the time, he was producing an album called Die Jim Crow which featured tracks from incarcerated and formerly incarcerated artists. The album led to the record label Die Jim Crow Records.
Die Jim Crow Records is the first non-profit record label in the history of the United States to feature currently and formerly incarcerated artists. Shirelle is the label's first solo artist, and is now the label's Deputy Director.
BY BL SHIRELLE
I had to rewind the times before the rhymes
I had to rewind the crimes that locked me for that dime
I had to rewind before the first time that I sold to mom
I have to rewind my mind to times I don't want reminded
Rewind to 99 we was 11,12 stuffing them 12 12's
We shared a 38 we had like 12 shells
Juvenile cells jail praying for snail mail but I won't talk about it
My broken heart & open scar feel like you ripped & broke a jar you droppin ice all on your stove just tryna see if somethin mold tryna see them oils hold you lost your dreams & all your goals in a pyrex you stole from Lowe's yall know the feeling
My self esteem was kinda low I had a demon in my soul that sank his teeth & made a hole without a filling
But I wont talk about it
My heart got chalk around it yea
That's when I thought about it
It's some shit I gotta say
Shit I carry everyday
It's some shit that's on my heart
Where the f*ck am I gone start
These weirdo niggas (dudes) is bitches(wenches) I give em morning sickness
The more they sitting the more I'm shifting
They mourn the difference
Some niggas (dudes) get in ya business
Some niggas(dudes) get in they feelings
I just get to the witness the snitch and codefendant
Seen n8ggas (good brother) fake they religion
When they eating that chi chi they envisioning chitlings
Ain't gonna get more specific
Go west and i hit the Pacific
I hope u fuckin (dummy) illiterate (nitwits) know the difference
Yea I'm a victim of recidivism
I'll only be civilized in the prison system
Religous stigmas keep a sinners vision
Skin stigmas a bigger division
It cant be mended its cemented and demented
My windows tinted and my skin is which one is it?
When you violate my rights and my amendments
Same rights was never given to begin with
I'd rather ask for forgiveness than permission
Clinicians cant provide prescriptions for this sickness
Im addicted to the digits they addicted to syringes
Common sense is that we must conduct the business
Its some shit I gotta say
Shit I carry everyday
My man mom died while he was at chow time
Baby mom miscarried while he was at commissary
It's kinda scary
Cause his cells a drag who dresses in woman fashion madea they call her tyler Perry
I could barely get fresh wore that designer rarely
Till I did the math like hold up the 1 I gotta carry
Till i gripped the gat like hold up that gun I gotta carry
These niggas (these)wanna spill my blood on my prime Carrie
Spoiled milk reminiscing on that rotten dairy
In this game we one and done we play for Calipari
Draft picks from the bottom of the belly bottom beast
But when its extra hollow in yo belly gotta eat
And when they plotting stop em u cant let them bottom feed
Even if I gotta fight in them Rockies apollo creed
Spent countless nights in them counties without a blink
But I ain't gotta sleep motherfucka I got a dream.
© 2020 by Monique Shirelle Mull
In June of 2020, Shirelle released her debut LP, Assata Troi to critical acclaim and media attention. She also helped to send over 30,000 masks to prisons across the country, as a part of the PPE Into Prisons campaign.
Donald "C-Note" Hooker
Donald "C-Note" Hooker 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.
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. He began the Millennium, January 1st, 2000, in solitary confinement, resulting from a prison riot between the prison guards and African American prisoners. After being released from solitary confinement, he faced a dilemma on how to commercialize his raps. With no good options, he picked up drawing, only to discover that poetry and painting are considered sister Arts. The poet paints pictures with words; the painter tells stories with paints.
Now renowned from behind-the-wall for his storytelling, whether as a poet, playwright, or short story teller, C-Note is known as The King of Prison Hip Hop for his gritty portrayal of prison life, similar to early Rappers brought to the fore, the grittiness of living in late 70s New York City.
THE CRIMINALIZATION OF OUR AMERICAN CIVILIZATION (This Is Not A Manifesto)
This is my homagization
of Homer's epic poetization
of the Iliad, which receives glorification
from western civilization
and it's in that vein of creation
I present to you my poetization
on the criminalization
of our american civilization.
When was its commencization?
Was it with Christopher Columbus, and his infestation
of small pox, on the Indian population?
Is my street spill, a revisitation
on the orgins of this american civilization
whereupon european colonization
was the dominate manifestation
and natives suffered humilation
for christian propagation
and capitalistic subjugation?
With natives being stamped with ineptation
they turned toward their own population
for labor intensification.
Their prisons they went
their street people they sent
to their european colonizations
under a system of indenturification.
Yet this prove insufficient to raise a nation.
So it was the african slave occupation
that would work the plantation
to build the nation
so is it any wonder if this is the commencization
of your nation
that it would lack cultivation
of a so-called civilization?
2.2 mil, the U.S. prison population
the most incarcerated in the history of civilization.
Parents, siblings, spouse, children, are an exponentiation
of those who also feel the effects of incarceration.
You're hauled-off to your local police station
without some rational explanation
you're then given legal representation
to defend against a State's accusation
of some penal code violation.
You're lacking in bail funding capitalization
so you make an OR application
but the judge has some reservation
so you're given over to the bailiff, for pre-trial incarceration.
to a larger jail holding station
you'll hear detainee conversation
of police report falsification
and witness testimony fabrication
to cheat you out of an adjudication
that will lead to your liberation.
Now you're filled with frustration
from a lack of attorney-client communication
so you're not filled with adulation
in the outcome of a jury deliberation.
Now it's trial commencization
and the D.A.'s presentation
of the State's accusation
of your alleged penal code violation
but because of your attorney's lack of preparation
you're given poor advocation
of the factual characterization
of what really happened with this situation
regarding the State's accusation
so now the court issues its proclamation
from your negative jury ajudication
you're eligible for rehabilitation
so you ask the judge for probation
but the D.A. doesn't like this recommendation
so slithery-tongue prosecutorial persuasion
is spewed without hesitation
and you're given years of incarceration
now lack of familial participation
will lead to inner feelings of alienation
that will further hearten your subjugation
and this is just one narration
Like the criminalization
against those who seek euphoration
for their alleviation
to stressful american situations
by illicit foreign importation
of naroctic stimulation
Why are they stressing over the nature of the narcotic' legalization
Are we not the Zolof Nation!
So what difference does it make how you seek your intoxication?
This is no way for a nation
to treat a spiritually devoid population
But why did I have such expectations?
Was it due, to my rationalization
of America's constitutionalization
written towards man's higher aspirations?
However, due to poor implementation
why should anyone believe in that documentation?
of womanhood molestations
are too numerous for citation
of women representation
regarding congressional delegation
is just one manifestation
of this vilification
to constitutional implementation
Let's not talk about the brutalization
of the black population
thru white intimidation
and his racial segregation
Tho lacking in sophistication
it did lead to black intepidation
thank God for white motivation
for national reconciliation
thru civil rights passation
of our haloed constitutional documentation
So take this into consideration
Go visit another State on vacation
then leave out on probation
this is what we do as a nation
of our American civilization
and always a history of demonization
on the next population
But for my final observation
It regards poor funding in education
for the eradication
of the minority population
Blacks statistically 12% of U.S. population
but 50% of its incarceration
ain't got shit, on my enunication
in this undercover operation
to conceal my true representation
for this was a manifestation
on the criminalization
of our American civilization
© 2003 by Donald "C-Note" Hooker
In February of 2020, his 2020 poem Journey to Afrofuturism was recited at the 30th Annual Celebration of African American Poets and Their Poetry. Later that year, Speculative City Magazine paid him to feature it in their 2020 winter release of their #10 Issue, "Afrofuturism."
Speculative fiction critic Charles Payseur of Quick Sip Reviews, said of this piece, "The poem to me feels like a celebration of scholarship and of art to reach back and make connections, to find afrofuturism waiting in all times, in all places."
In October of 2021, at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), held on Zoom, Afrofuturism Then and Now. It was the inaugural 2021 - 2022 Academic Year Global discussion and performances on what Afrofuturism means and how it manifests in cultural practices. The Zoom call panelists consisted of speakers in diverse locations such as the Congo in Central Africa, Burkina Faso in West Africa, and several cities in the Northern California Bay Area in the United States. The event concluded with Hip Hop artist and Hip Hop Congress Board Chairman Rahman Jamaal exhibiting and reciting C-Note's artwork and poem Journey to Afrofuturism.
Celes Tisdale led poetry workshops at Attica State Prison, soon after the 1971 uprising. Some of the prisoners were still recovering from gunshots. Their writings demonstrate the power of poetry to help oppressed people heal from trauma and organize their political thinking.
On August 21, 1971, at San Quentin State Prison, guards killed writer, activist, and Black Panther Party member George Jackson. News of his death from a prison riot had spread quickly. It inspired prisoner resistance across the country.
Attica prisoners took control of an estimated fifty hostages. After four days of failed negotiations with Governor Nelson Rockefeller, Rockefeller ordered troops to retake the prison. This led to the death of forty-three prisoners and guards.
Prison officials told journalists that the inmates had slashed the throats of correctional officers and severed the genitalia of others. But an independent coroner's report later concluded that everyone who died during the prison riot had died from, as the prisoners dubbed it, "a bullet that had the name Rockefeller on it."
The writers in Tisdale's Attica workshop were becoming, in Historian Joy James's words, "the storytellers of the political histories of the captives and their captors," perhaps none with such intensity as John Lee Norris in his poem "Just Another Page (September 13-72)":
A year later
And it's just another page
And the only thing they do right is wrong
And Attica is a maggot-minded black blood sucker
And the only thing they do right is wrong
And another page of history is written in black blood
And old black mamas pay taxes to buy guns that killed their sons
And the consequence of being free . . . is death
And your sympathy and tears always come too late
And the only thing they do right is wrong
And it's just another page.
© 1972 by John Lee Norris
Bringing Innovation to Poetry
In "'Spoken Floz,' Prisoners Retake Over of Hip Hop," it noted how prisoners were going to take back Hip Hop's Rap, the art form that came from the prisons and jails.
Dr. Shirley Lumpkin who extensively published on African American writers, wrote of Etheridge Knight, "When Knight entered prison, he was already an accomplished reciter of "toasts"-long, memorized, narrative poems, often in rhymed couplets, in which "sexual exploits, drug activities, and violent aggressive conflicts involving a cast of familiar folk... are related... using street slang, drug and other specialized argot, and often obscenities," explains Lumpkin. Toast-reciting at Indiana State Prison not only refined Knight's expertise in this traditional Black art form but also, according to Lumpkin, gave him a sense of identity and an understanding of the possibilities of poetry. "Since toast-telling brought him into genuine communion with others, he felt that poetry could simultaneously show him who he was and connect him with other people."
Today, Hip Hop's Rap is the most listened to form of music on Earth. Has the Western world actually come to grips with this fact when they tell us of great poets in the Lexicon of poems and poets? How the poetry and poems coming from America's prison and jails has been the true poetics language of the masses.
In 2016, C-Note wrote a widely distributed abstract, known as "The Untapped Potential of Prison Art."
If the 2.3 million American prison population were a city it would be the fourth largest behind New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, all known for very vibrant art scenes. ___C-Note
He has been telling the world ever since that innovative works of art are being created from behind-the-wall.
In 2016, C-Note was asked to create poetry, around some of his artwork being exhibited at the Escaping Time, Prisoner Art Exhibit, on Governors Island, New York City, July 26, 2016-October 2, 2016. Out of that experience, and other Prison art exhibitions he created the Paintoem.
Paintoems- are poems inspired by paintings or drawings; or paintings and drawings inspired by poems. They are combined together as a single work of Digital art. All paintoems are classified as a Creative Commons (CC). This means the public has the right to freely use these works as long as the artist or artists are acknowledged.
In a 2016 article, "WHAT ARE PAINTOEMS?," in Mprisond Thotz, C-Note goes into details about this art form, and why he sees it as becoming a potential movement.
"I had found that prison art exhibitions were not solely about the visual arts. There was always some literary component to it. Be it creative writing, poetry, or small plays. So the curators who were putting on these exhibits equally felt, having the public hear in their own words, the prisoners' voices, greatly enriched their prison art exhibitions.
Then there are the prisoner publications, which can be newsletters, newspapers, or magazines. They also in their publications want to publish, preferably, politically inspired drawings, paintings, or poems. So in 2016, I came up with the idea, let's put them together. Let's create vignettes of poems inspired by paintings, or paintings/drawings inspired by poems; package them together, and give them to the public without ever getting our expressed written permission to do so. So now, a curator can just download from the internet, one of these paintoems, and enlarge it to whatever size they choose, and use this combination of painting + poem as part of their exhibit.
Publishers, or anyone else, can use these paintoems however they want. We have one caveat, they can only be used as long as the artist or artists are acknowledged. When these works are published they always contain the artist's name. Oftentimes it's two different artists, because one has contributed to the visual, the other the literal.
As a Prisoner Restorative Justice Coordinator, I get artists together from different disciplines to create these works of art. Prisoner artists are vital to the restorative justice movement. Prison art is an invaluable part of charitable fundraising, for legislative reform, prison reentry programs, and aid to families with a loved one behind bars.``
In 2019, African American painter Titus Kaphar, teamed up with poet Reginald Dwayne Betts to create a series of works called Redaction Project. The series draws source material from lawsuits filed by the Civil Rights Corps on behalf of people incarcerated because of an inability to pay court fees. It overlays Betts's poetry, crafted out of redacted legal documents, onto Kaphar's etched portraits of incarcerated individuals.
The poems, which are screen-printed onto Kaphar's delicate portraits, illustrate the financial realities that undergird the court process and emphasize the humanity of the individuals ensnared within the system.
The collaborations create portraits that meld the intimate and the institutional, drawing attention to some of the many individuals whose lives have been impacted by the racialized and socio-economic biases of the U.S. criminal justice system.
Despite these Innovations in poetry, acknowledgement of it has gone ignored. A Google search does not recognize these works, nor is there to be found a relationship between actual physical paintings and poetry.
According to Mprisond Thotz, "Spoken Floz, is an eclectic blend of hip hop, poetry, and spoken word, created by California prisoner Jimmy "Natidapoet" McMillan." It's a new form of spoken poetry that must be experienced through listening, rather than reading.
The first official video recording of Jimmy "Natidapoet" McMillan performing Spoken Floz was in 2015 by People. The title of the piece was The Nigga Blues. It was a Work that reflected the pain of being of mixed race. For him, he wasn't Black enough to be Black, nor white enough to be white. Raised as Black, he tells a harrowing story of bullying and harassment; and how sometimes his fist would have to speak up for him, when no one else would.
While his theater director Michael Bierman, who was being followed by People for his work with those behind bars, was stoked that the public was going to be exposed to this phenomenal Work, prison officials not so much. The Work contains the N-word and prison officials asked for it not to be published. Prison officials then went on to ban any more reporting from the press regarding this theater production inside the prison.
Despite prison officials initial response, due to the critical acclaim that derived from the production, prison officials reversed course on their press ban, however, that has never been conveyed to People. The above video is Distorted Reflections by Natidapoet.
Silencing African American and Prisoner Voices
According to respected art consultant Allan Schwartzman, African American art is the most sought after, but the most difficult to acquire. For African American artists, the most difficult to acquire is a tacit acknowledgement from the art world, its new push for acquiring these works is solely virtue signaling.
Without rehashing the litany of examples, the The Art Newspaper once put it, "And yet as literal masses of every race have taken to the streets for a week straight in a unified rally for equal rights and an end to racialized police brutality, many of the country's largest museums-their collections stocked, by the way, with looted artifacts from Africa, the Middle East, Asia and the Indigenous lands on which they sit-have remained slow to comment on the issue."
Prison art is the most difficult to access because the prison administrators exercise their own form of censorship. Why is this a problem, when no laws are being broken from prisoner expression of speech, be it literal or visual. We must demand more from the public-private power structures that virtue signals their progressiveness.