From Incarceration to Liberation (De la Encarcelación a la Liberación)

Exhibition: Thursday, December 3rd, 2015 ~ January 26th 2016

Opening Reception: Thursday, December 3rd from 5:00-8:00pm

Creative Process of the Prison Abolition Mural for San Francisco State’s PROJECT REBOUND
Designed and Painted by the True Colors Mural Project of Berkeley City College

The Project Rebound Mural is a student-driven collaboration between SFSU’s Project Rebound and the True Colors Mural Project of Berkeley City College. Many voices have joined together to create the imagery to demand a new approach to crime and incarceration in our country, a country that differentiates itself from others by the staggering number of prisons and people behind bars or in custody awaiting trial. The design is the result of multiple conversations between members of Project Rebound, the SFSU community and the Berkeley City College Public Art Program’s Mural Design and Creation students, who worked together to give shape to the ideas expressed and shared by people who had firsthand knowledge and experience of life inside the prison industrial system. As artists, we took those ideas and represented them symbolically for Project Rebound. The images in this mural represent the ideas of a growing movement against the unfair system of criminal justice.

The design is an empowering expression of Project Rebound’s history that inspires and educates through the concept of change and manifestation of one’s greatest potential through higher education. Furthermore, the design serves to raise the consciousness of our communities by demystifying the negative stereotypes associated with those who are and have been incarcerated. Its overall messages are: prison abolition; the struggles and eventual triumph of the previously incarcerated; celebration of the human spirit and intellect in breaking through physical and intellectual barriers; and celebration of the visionary work of leaders in the prison abolition movement.

The mural will be painted on canvas this fall and adhered to the wall in December. The installation will span the width of the stairwell in the Tower atrium, and measure approximately 13’ x 35’. Its swirling design will move from imprisonment to liberation, in a left to right sequence, counter-clockwise.

As we begin to identify the images in the sketch, we start in the upper left quadrant of the piece, where the prison guard tower, on fire, leans into the composition, billowing smoke across the top of the mural, leading our eyes toward the center of the composition. Beneath the smoke, in the center section of the drawing, human beings encased in and bound by their cells begin to move, break free, crawl, run and leap towards their liberation and the graduation celebration on the far right of the mural.

In the bottom third of the sketch, there are various cells that represent a dystopic society. In the hyper-structured world of prison, the concept of time is referred to as “doing time”, and we represent this with a large, transparent clock overlaying the prison scene. We observe the regimented, dulling and exploitive nature of life in prison: people chained together in their cellblock under the hardened watch of the guards, or in their bunks, writing letters and dreaming. Animals and griffin-like characters accompany them in the surreal dream world, where dollar bills drape their quarters, referring to the prison industrial complex, where inmates produce profits for a private economy. As we move to the right, we see an individual in his cell, folding a letter into an origami bird, which flies out of the cell to transform into a real bird, and then into a multitude of birds taking flight. Moving to the right of the prison cell, we see a visual representation of Plato’s allegory of the cave, where figures debate about possible realities and forms of liberation. To the right of the cave, we see another representation of social imprisonment, where under the mesmerizing effect of a huge screen, ­people are forced to sell drugs, live in highly militarized communities, cross dangerous borders or work in alienating jobs in order to survive. We have also referred to the imagery of prison art, where the skeletons above them mock and laugh at the tragedy of this existence.

But there are signs of hope: the figures in the cave ascend the stairs into the light, a giant rosebush springs from the underground decay, and in the center of the composition, a phoenix rises to the sky above the graduation scene. Out of the hundreds of birds emerge the figures of graduates, role models and activists in the prison abolition movement. Counterclockwise, from left to right, we see:

  • Michelle Alexander, an associate professor of law at Ohio State University, a civil rights advocate and author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.
  • John Irwin. In 1967 Professor John Irwin created Project Rebound as a way to matriculate people into San Francisco State University (S.F.S.U.) directly from the criminal Justice system. The focus of Project Rebound quickly became “Education as an Alternative to incarceration” and “Turning Former Prisoners to Scholars” after being embraced by the Associated Students Incorporated. Since the program inception there have been hundreds of formerly incarcerated folks who have obtained four – year degrees and beyond.
  • Assata Shakur: Prison abolition and civil rights activist, currently in exile in Cuba. For more information:
  • Jason Bell, Director of Project Rebound, is a former inmate with an M.S. in Counseling
  • Rhodessa Jones, Director of the MEDEA Project for Incarcerated Women
  • Airto Morales, Project Rebound Data Specialist, Ex-convict and Professor at San Francisco University
  • Yazmin Madriz, SFSU graduate, Berkeley City College student, founding leader of the Project Rebound mural project
  • Tirso G. Araiza, Instructor, Berkeley City College, True Colors Mural Project
  • Anonymous graduate

In conclusion, the mural sketch will be completed in color in September by Berkeley City College students in the Mural Design and Creation class. The color design will feature a transformation from a black, white and gray palette to a vibrant multicolored palette as the design moves from left to right and bottom to top. The light sources will be the fiery prison tower, the phoenix, and the lights at the top of the cave and end of the tunnel of prisoners. We look forward to the approval of the design and completion of this vision.

Berkeley Community College Muralist Instructors
Juana Alicia, Tirso G. Araiza            

Student Artists – Spring 2015 Class
Sonia Molina, Michelle Lewis, Antu Antinao Soza, Kevin Davis, Shaye McKenney, Joshua Berger, Carla Wojczuk, Yazmin Madriz, Yano Rivera (Teaching Assistant), Christy Booth, Brooke Walton, Theodore Watkins, Madoka Wada  

Student Artists – Fall 2015 Class
Zaba Angel, Aurea Altamirano Cuaresma,  Wendy Hernandez, Erica Davenport, Madoka Wada (Teaching Assistant), Michelle Lewis, Devon Lodge, Llewelyn Tovar, Dartanian Fierce Kaufman, Erica Fitzgerald, Christopher Mathieu, Antu Antinao Soza, Mia McMillan, Eva Mas, Yazmin Madriz, Ena Abarca, Sonia Molina (Teaching Assistant), Lina Savage, Inocente Po Guizar

Project Initiators
Yazmin Madriz, Katherine Day, Gabriela Segovia-McGahan, Dr. Teresa Carrillo, Lana Turner, Celia

Other Artists and Helpers:
Miranda Bergman, Miguel “Bodnce” Perez Mondragòn, Nadya Voynouskaya, Rob Trujillo-Liu, Cece Carpio

Many Thanks to:
Jennifer Lopez, Intern, Project Round
Kassandra N Chavez, Intern, Project Rebound
Jose Cuellar Ph.D, Latina/Latino Studies

Project Rebound
Director, Jason Bell
Office Coordinator, Elisa Leon
Data Specialist, Airto Morales

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