Dances for Solidarity adopted this illustration, by Mario Garcia, who is currently in solitary confinement in Texas, as our unofficial banner as soon as we received it. Most of the art we receive, like this image, is unexpected and impressive. This is not to say it is only impressive because it is created by people in prison. Every week we receive drawings I would hang on my wall, poetry I would expect to read in literary journals, and essays that could be published in the New York Times Sunday Review. What is impressive to me is that all of these artists were able to create despite their existence in a system that confines them to a 9’ x 12’ box for 23 hours per day. What I continue to be amazed by is that our tiny PO box is constantly overflowing with unsolicited creative expression. So many men and women* in prison are hungry to show the world that they are more than just their inmate number, more than just their crime. Imagine, for a moment, a utopian world that nourished these avenues for expression instead of repressing them.
Just today, I received a letter from Walter, a man in solitary confinement in the notorious Camp J (maximum security) section of Angola State Prison in Louisiana. He writes, “There are absolutely no rehabilitation programs in this prison. So if you are one of the few who are fortunate enough to have an out date, when you leave you will be ill-equipped and unprepared to handle life outside of here. In the state of Louisiana (and what I call Lousy-ana), this is by design. They actually want you to come back. It is like anything else in life. If you were not provided a plan to succeed, you definitely will fail.”
I am grateful to Culture Push for giving me the platform to curate a small sampling of the artistic success I have witnessed since beginning Dances for Solidarity last year. For full disclosure, I would like readers to know that all the incarcerated artists featured in this issue of Push/Pull will be given a small stipend in the form of a deposit in their commissary for their contributions. It is one small way we are attempting to acknowledge our friends in prison as artistic peers.
*It is not lost on me that all of the artists represented here are male. The large majority of the incarcerated people who correspond regularly with DFS are male or at least held in men’s prisons. (Some of our contributors identify as female but are kept in men’s prisons because they are transgender.) We do not currently have equal access to contact information from both men and women in solitary.
-Sarah Dahnke, Founder of Dances for Solidarity, dancesforsolidarity.org