Ex-Cons Reclaim Life After Prison With New Art Installation

Viva

A bevy of former inmates are launching an art installation inspired by their respective journeys toward reclaiming life after prison. Arizona-based artist Gregory Sale, who is helping curate the Rap Sheet to Resume project, says the one-of-a-kind collaborative effort explores professional development and “social/aesthetic investigation.”

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“Our artistic process focuses on reclaiming the symbolic meaning of inmate uniforms that demarcate the incarcerated,” Sale tells The Daily News, “and contribute to marginalization even after their release.”

Last April, Sale linked with Urban Justice Center reentry advocate Johnny Perez, social worker Susan Goodwillie, and artist/curator Marisa Jahn to create a reentry art project, which explores colors associated with prison and their relationships with certain attires (i.e. inmate uniform).

Perez, who served 13 years in New York state prisons, saw the challenge of turning a rap sheet into a resume as an opportunity to create some positive forward movement in an otherwise bleak predicament. “There were times when I sat in the cell and thought, ‘How do I turn this negative into a positive? […] I realized that I do have experience, just not conventional work experience,” he says.

Perez has been free for about two years now and, despite a difficult process of reentry, has served as a guest speaker everywhere from the U.N. to Cornell Law School.

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“I would hope that someone who does not have a history of incarceration or does not know anything about mass incarceration,” he adds, “walks into this with one notion about mass incarceration and walks out with a different notion.”

The Rap Sheet to Resume will be up at the Urban Justice Center on 40 Rector St. in Manhattan through spring 2016.