Sheila Pinkel

The artworks that I have done related to prisons have been in response to my concern about the growth of incarceration in the United States. Because I live in California I am especially sensitive to this issue since California has the highest rate of incarceration of any state and the United States has the highest rate of incarceration of any modern country in the world. This coupled with the extremely high rate of incarceration of people of color, especially African Americans, has led me to explore the history and current status of incarceration, including who profits and who pays the price. In California funding for prisons has grown while funding for education has declined. Last year the California State Legislature voted for an additional 52,000 prison beds while budgets for social services, salaries and education declined. And this year the governor is actively pursuing offering of public bonds to finance new prisons at a time when the salaries of government workers are being cut and the California prison system itself is on the brink of federal receivership due to over crowding and inadequate medical care for prisoners.

Site Unseen: Incarceration is a 9’ x 12’ mural which reflects the growth of incarceration in the United States from 1935 – 2000 in the context of U.S. history. Major corporations building prisons have grown in value and today are considered good investment bets. And, not only do a spectrum of companies profit from building and running of prisons, but in California, mid-sized companies are encouraged to build manufacturing facilities near prisons to participate in the Prison Industrial Authority (PIA). PIA is a system in which prisoners are paid minimum wage, but in fact, personally receive far less than that to manufacture a spectrum of items. Other prisoners not working directly for PIA are paid less than $.20/hour. All state offices as well as all of the California State University and California Polytechnic University campuses are required by law to purchase furniture from the California Prison Industrial Authority. This is of special interest to labor unions concerned with workers rights and unfair labor competition. And, there is growing concern about the ethics of an economic system in which an increasing amount of manufacturing is done by prison labor.

Because most people are not aware of this industry, I did a piece entitled Site/Unseen: Prison Labor which consists of a matrix of images of things manufactured in prison. In the center of the piece is an image of the U.S. flag and the California State flag with the text, "Made by prisoners in a California State Prison" under the image. Embedded in the matrix is statistical information about the ethnic and socio-economic profiles of people currently incarcerated in the United States, to make visible racial and class biases in the penal system today.

Statement by Sheila Pinkel

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