Prisoner Disciplined for Selling Paintings for Charity
A prisoner at a California prison has been forced to undergo discipline–for selling paintings and donating the money to charity.
A prison artist in California who uses the dye from M&M’s for paint has been disciplined for what a prison official yesterday called “unauthorized business dealings” in the sale of his paintings. The prison has also barred the prisoner, Donny Johnson, from sending his paintings through the mail.
Mr. Johnson’s work has been on display for the last several weeks at a gallery in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Twenty of his paintings have been sold, for $500 each.
Mr. Johnson had donated the paintings to the Pelican Bay Prison Project, a charity which says it will honor Mr. Johnson’s wish that it use the proceeds from the show to help the children of prisoners.
According to a “serious rules violation report” issued by the prison last month, Mr. Johnson ran afoul of a corrections department regulation that prohibits engaging in a business or profession without the warden’s permission. The regulation defines a business as “any revenue-generating or profit-making activity.”
Francisco Jacquez, the chief deputy warden at Pelican Bay State Prison, in Crescent City, Calif., said the violation could extend Mr. Johnson’s sentence or restrict his privileges. “There are some consequences, and that’s what we use to maintain discipline in prison,” Mr. Jacquez said, declining to be more specific.
Look, I’ll be honest. It’s hard to have sympathy for a two-time murderer, and I don’t. His deeds earned him a place in prison, and he doesn’t deserve to be allowed his freedom.
That said, this kind of discipline seems pretty stupid. I mean, his art sucks, but people are willing to buy it–why stop that? And if he’s not personally profiting from the sales, what’s the harm? But there’s a bigger principle here. Right now this guy is serving three life sentences, but it’s possible that one day the law’s gonna change and he’ll be allowed parole. If he is allowed out, wouldn’t it be a good idea for him to have a skill that enables him to earn a living, instead of, you know–turning to crime?
I think the biggest problem of our prison system is that it is entirely too focused on punishment. Look, it’s punishment enough to be denied your basic liberties. While those prisoners are there, doesn’t it make sense to help them out so that when they leave prison, they can lead productive lives? What good is letting them out if the system we have now just pretty much ensures that they’re going to go right back to prison?