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Published:January 8th, 2006 19:14 EST
Crime Currency Exhibited

Crime Currency Exhibited

By Maggie Ybarra

The cultural art of life curdling into death within the stonewalls of a high-security prison has become a fashionable new-age trend for budding art galleries to showcase.

Various 2D and 3D projects created by incarcerated artists, including Mark A. Montoya, Narro Vasquez, Aaron Martinez, Mario Perez-Barrera, LonGin Garcia, Pedro Gonzalez and Raymond E. Garduno currently dangle from nails inside the cramped quarters of the SolArts Gallery. 

The exhibit, titled La Puerta de Pinta, allowed the law-abiding public a preview into a caged man`s internal universe. 

That`s how people survive in there " through their art, " ex-convict Wayne Williams explained. They`ll sell their handkerchiefs or illustration boards. The boards can sell for 20, 30, or 40 bucks in there. Handkerchiefs can sell for 5, 10, or 20 dollars. "  

In its simplest form, prison art consists of rubbing a soft pencil nub across a crisp handkerchief until the detailed face of the Virgin Mary appears. Her religious status is used as the penitentiary`s circulating form of wampum and can be exchanged for money, food, or art supplies with which to continue the trade of occupying one`s mind for another day. There is no word yet as to what the religious symbol of Lucille Ball is worth on the jailhouse circuit, but the gallery wall of SolArts lists prison inmate Aaron Martinez`s creation at a price of $225.

There`s not too many outside vendors for something like that, " said Williams. It`s valuable only on the inside [of prison]. "  

Williams, a 27 year old who paid 10 years worth of freedom to the state in exchange for his crime, takes pride in his prison art collection.  

I have stuff from people that ain`t alive anymore, " Williams declared.

Although capable of convincing even the most hardened spirit into feeling a twinge of pity over the accurately portrayed subject, prison art is so much more than just drawn upon handkerchiefs depicting the purgatory-like experience of long-term incarcerations. It is a way of smuggling information on prison life to the general public without having to bake it into a cake. The message that each incarcerated artist tries to convey is simply: Get me out of here.