Photo by Jeffrey Hamilton on Unsplash.

This article was first published by Mule Creek Post, a newspaper at Mule Creek State Prison in Ione, California. The article has been lightly edited to add clarity and conform with PJP style rules.

While the past year and a half has been traumatic to many, artists inside Mule Creek State Prison have found inspiration from the coronavirus to deal with their isolation and fear about the pandemic. 

Daniel Gibson, who works for California Prison Industry Authority (CalPIA), a firm that employs people inside prison to make products for the state and helps incarcerated people become more self-sufficient, is one of them. Gibson is a self-proclaimed environmentalist who does not eat beef because it contributes to global warming. In 2020, Gibson saw a news report about disposable masks floating in the ocean that resembled jellyfish. The report stated that eventually there would be more masks in the ocean than jellyfish. 

Gibson decided to collect the elastic straps of KN-95 masks and crochet with them instead of yarn. The first project he made was a snowcap with a pom-pom. 

Every week he collected bands donated by his neighbors and added them to the cap using a paperclip as a crochet needle. After creating the snowcap in a month’s time, he moved on to a mop-top wig he described as “dreads.” To make it, Gibson started with a knit cap and then added strands to it one row at a time. After a year, the wig was complete, weighing in at about 10 pounds.  

“It got me through during the lockdowns with no dayroom or nothing to do,” Gibson said. He hopes to sell his art pieces on eBay. 

Another prisoner was inspired by COVID-19 to create a papier-mâché hand holding an apple. Using shredded newspaper, CalPIA soap and water, he covered a stuffed disposable glove, creating a work he called “COVID Hands.” 

The process took several months to dry, assemble and paint. Each hand had a theme: life, compassion, unity and hope. Unfortunately, only the “Hope” sculpture survived the numerous moves he was required to make during quarantine. 

Artist Steven Levy created large COVID-19 posters that measure 4 feet by 4 feet with a collage of COVID-19-related images from magazines, newspapers and resource articles. 

“I was inspired to get the word out and get people’s hope up at the same time,” Levy said. He created about 20 posters, most sold to personal art collectors or were donated to prison projects to help prisoners through advocacy and resources.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

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Franklin Lee

Franklin Lee is a reporter for the Mule Creek Post, a newspaper inside Mule Creek State Prison in California.