By Dylan Deprey
Art can come from the deepest, darkest places: a break up, a death, a prison.
While James Morgan spent his time in prison, he needed an escape, a way to express himself.
His portrait depicts Malcolm X, President Obama and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the forefront. In the distance are snow capped mountains, like the mountainous feats the three leaders had accomplished.
“Art freed me while I was in prison,” Morgan said. “It took me to me to places I couldn’t go…For me, art was an opportunity to communicate myself, and to speak for my brothers and sisters who couldn’t speak for themselves.”
As Wisconsin and its mass incarceration issues have drained the state of their people, money and resources, Sen. Lena Taylor welcomed a group of formerly-incarcerated artists to share their artwork at the State Capitol, as part of her kickoff event for Criminal Justice Week, on Sat. Feb. 20.
The “Reentering Citizens’ Beyond Bars Art Display” was one Sen. Taylor’s several events focused on the criminal justice system. Events were held in Madison and Milwaukee.
“We are a nation that incarcerates more per capita than anywhere else,” Sen. Taylor said in a press release. “Our state leads in the incarceration of African-American men.”
The prison population in Wisconsin has more than tripled since 1990, and has the highest black male incarceration rate in the country. This has led to half of African American men in their 30s in Milwaukee County have been in state prison, according to WISDOM’s prison reform organization ROC Wisconsin.
During the reveal, artists had the opportunity to share their experiences in the criminal justice system, and how art aided in their reentry back into society.
“I’ve known brothers who without art would have committed crimes after reentering,” said artist Luther Hal. “Art has helped me turn my life around.”
The “Reentering Citizens’ Beyond Bars Art Display” will be available on the 1st floor Rotunda through the end of February.
“I want this art to speak to the need for change. I want those behind bars to be inspired to use art as a therapeutic way to deal with issues, as a talent, and as a way to build economic wealth, Taylor said.”