BACKGROUND

Spoon grew up in a family with fifteen brothers in the heart of the Mojave Desert in Barstow, a small town in California. At the age of 19 he became involved in a dispute that resulted in a killing. After an error-ridden racist trial in 1977 he was overcharged and sentenced to Life Without Possibility of Parole (LWOP). The court fabricated "special circumstances" which were added to the case.  It came about only because the DA tried to get Spoon the Death Penalty. Spoon never denied that he was responsible for the killing but he did not commit nor plead guilty of the special circumstances and there was no evidence to prove them. In the US it's not possible to get a new trial once sentenced to LWOP.

In 1985 Spoon began a four year poetry course at San Quentin State Prison led by writer and teacher Judith Tannenbaum who saw his talent for writing and also became a long time friend and mentor. Prisoners, staff and poets from the outside began calling Spoon "poet". He has won four awards from PEN American Center Prison Writing Program. He played Pozzo in the 1988 production of Samuel Beckett's play "Waiting for Godot" directed by Jan Jönsson which brought him international attention. Read Spoon's own story in his book By Heart.

In 2003, Michel Wenzer produced a documentary in Sweden entitled "Three Poems by Spoon Jackson." The film included recordings of Spoon reciting his poems, taped from telephone calls.

Spoon had two books published in 2010, Longer Ago - Poems by Spoon Jackson and By Heart - Poetry, Prison and Two Lives, a double memoir by Spoon Jackson and Judith Tannenbaum. He currently writes articles and essays  for magazines.

Michel Wenzer made the full length documentary: "At night I fly - Images from New Folsom" named after one of Spoon's poems. It premiered in November 2011 in Sweden and won the prestigeous "Guldbagge Award" (the "Swedish Oscar") for best documentary of the year. It has also been screened in other European countries and the US. The documentary was initially intended to focus on Spoon and his work but prison authorities didn't allow for only one prisoner to be portrayed. Michel then decided to film a group of prisoners participating in the Arts In Corrections program where Spoon is one of them. It is a film about prison and the transformative power of art.

The books and films has helped Spoon get more publicity and he often receive suggestions from artists in different countries to do collaborative work, write articles, essays and poems for magazines, schools, prison support groups and anthologies.

"Freedom for the prisoners" and "Words of realness" two works for choir and orchestra by Swedish composer Stefan Säfsten based on Spoon's poems, premiered in Stockholm, Sweden. In 2006 the first work was performed in the prison where Spoon is housed on a US tour. Two CD's has been produced with their collaborative work. They are now working on a musical based on both CD's and chapters from the book By Heart.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation have seriously slashed rehabilitation programs in recent years, among them the Arts-in-Corrections program where Spoon has been teaching poetry and prose classes. Spoon writes on prison reforms 2006; ”...ultimately, rehabilitation is always self-rehabilitation. Prison had to offer the programs, and I had to make myself active in these programs and in my own self-directed studies. Self-rehabilitation works. I had to choose to change, which meant to get to know myself and find my niche, bliss and myth in life. I had to till the endless gardens in my mind, heart and soul. I had to become anew, despite being in prison.”


 
 
 
 
ART ROOM

End of an era

The "Art Room", formerly the Arts In Corrections program, where Spoon worked for many years teaching poetry and prose classes was closed down in 2012. According to Spoon, New Folsom had one of the best art programs among California prisons. CDCR has since allowed a new pilot program of Arts In Corrections. Spoon was teaching there for a short period before he was transferred to Lancaster in 2013. Here follows a few of the articles Spoon has written about the art programs:

Space for realness

My students hearts, souls and spirits long to speak, to have a voice and a quiet place, a chance to express their often unexpressed and unknown selves in poetry and prose. Sometimes, my fellow prisoners are not aware of this fact, until they are sitting in class writing. This is what happened to me decades ago at San Quentin when I trusted my gut and signed up for a poetry class.  

I open my class with silent writing. This silent writing is a form of free expression on any subject. The silent period can last 20 to 50 minutes, depending on the flow of the pens on paper. Amazing prose and poetry can come from this process. Such a space to create as a group and as individuals is a rare and appreciated thing in prison. Being a poet, a teaching artist in prison, I know the importance of this space and place to stay human, and for my students to share their own realness with their own voice. This writing offers the students a safe and cool place to bring down their masks and be human and real, and allow that what connects them to all human beings anywhere, to come out in an art form. People not in prison would be shocked at how open, human and real these souls, hearts and spirits become to the arts when suffering or flowing through a prison existence. The arts can save you and sustain you through decades of hardness and inhumanity. The writing helps to cope with and even prevent many tragedies, and can often create a reservoir of peace, hope and forgiveness. The power of the arts can open some up to feeling and caring again - to being human again. Perhaps, a state lost since childhood. The endless depths of that childlike love, creativity and realness.

Space for realness was first published in the SJRA Advocate
 

Art Room 2013
We have a flourishing art program here under our new name Creative Arts Program or CAP for short. It came into existence after Arts in Corrections was disfunded from all California prisons in 2009. We have music programs with a rock band run by Marco, one of my co-workers, a music theory class, and a blues band run by Ken who also does a lot of clerical work. We also have an R&B group run by a fellow prisoner called Shorty. There is a visual arts class taught by Marty, another co-worker. I run two writing classes, one is a prose class and the other is poetry.
There is the book club run by Jim Carlson who is free staff along with three retired school teachers that come inside for the book club. Marty and I help run the book club as well and find interested readers. I also run the instrument check out program which mainly consists of guitars, and there is an assortment of native American flutes that I play. All of us have a long history into the arts. We have no budget and so our time and equipment is donated. Each morning I sit in front of the Art Room and bring in the day by playing the flute and hanging out with by bird friends.


The End of Arts-in-Corrections
I am just a prisoner, a poet decades incarcerated, looking at the world from the inside out. But even I have noticed the benefits of the art programs, especially in these slim economic times and how arts everywhere have not been supported as we need them to be. I have been involved in AIC for over 25 years of its 30 years existence. I have seen how the arts program have grown tremendously and how these programs have changed lives for better. All the time costing the state nearly nothing, because the core of Arts-in-Corrections program are volunteer-based. People from the free world and prisoners inside the prisons mentor, teach and inspire from the heart and soul. How can AIC be cut when it takes only one staff member to run it and the Arts-in-Corrections facilitator makes less than correctional officers and teachers?
 I started in a poetry class in AIC at San Quentin, where I sat silent and shy and listened for over a year as my heart and soul opened up like a natural desert filled with hidden life. I have never read, studied or pondered poetry before. I became a silent private poet, at first keeping all of my text to myself. Poetry led me to play POZZO in 1988′s production of Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” at San Quentin, with Samuel Beckett’s blessing and advice. We played to international attention and glowing reviews.
 I have gone from someone lost, who knew nothing about the world, the arts and how it can fill, touch and embrace lives and open you up to yourself, others and the world, to a writer who’s won four PEN writing awards, an actor who mentored others, a poet whose work has been the subject of short film, short plays, used for character setting and the text of two musical works, a teaching artist of both poetry, and prose classes for Arts-in-Corrections here in New Folsom where I am currently housed.
 I invited one of my prose students to a poetry class and I did a poetry lesson, a choice of two questions; what does forgiveness smell like? He wrote his first poem and his eyes and face was afire with the inspiration he uncovered inside himself to create his first poem. It was like he found a missing part of his soul.
 Arts-in-Corrections programs here at New Folsom run by free staff Jim Carlson was adopted by KVMR 89.5, radio station, Nevada City and their radio personality Cheri Snook who taped poetry shows and provided us with guest artists, poets, singers, writers, and musicians from California to Alaska. They all shared their skills, time, wisdom and art for free. Directors, actors, conductors and film makers came from Sweden and France to film and do workshops free of charge. A 40 piece choir came from Sweden to perform a suite of songs inspired by a prisoner at New Folsom and paid their own way.
 We had the internationally known performer Michael Franti and Spearhead come into New Folsom to do a show right after he had performed at Muhammad Ali’s Library dedication. No cost to the state.
 We had the smooth, powerful singer/poet/musician and rising star Melissa Mitchell (who recently opened for singer/poet Jewel) and her artist friends from Alaska come into New Folsom and did a final show for Arts-in-Corrections after hearing it will be shut down. Melissa and the other artists did concerts, writing and music sessions and workshops for six days and they all paid their own passage.
 Arts-in-Corrections has been cut as of January 2010, and with it goes a history of self rehabilitation and restoration, with it goes a history of deep change and realness from within. How do we heal without the arts? There is no garden if it only contains weeds. With the destruction of Arts-in-Corrections, what’s left behind is an unnatural desert and no forum for the hearts and souls of people trying to heal. A desert with no hidden life.  



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