“When survival is counted as success”
Interview with Samuel Richmond, incarcerated artist
Samuel Richmond is an artist incarcerated at Centralia Correctional. A virtual gallery of his work is available here. Interview by Emily Bruell
EB: How did you first start creating art?
SR: I started to create art competing with my older brother for our mothers’ attention. He drew a portrait of Tupac Shakur from the Word Up! Magazine, my mom gave him so much praise, I wanted some too. But that wasn’t the case, so I quit drawing for years. In ‘98, I started to draw again. It was my mental escape from reality. For the hours at a time I was drawing, nothing else existed. I was happy, that was utopia for me. Drawing is something I may get distracted from, then we always seem to find one another, like a lost love you can never get enough of. (If that makes sense).
I’m not a big speaker, so art was my voice. It is challenging at times, because I may not get an angle right. I am not afraid to ask those who draw better than me, and that opened dialogue. I learn new things, no longer afraid to ask for help.
EB: What do you want people on the outside to know about you?
SR: I grew up in prison, here I am 39, I’ve been incarcerated since the age of 17. Although I will not earn a day off of my sentence, I’ve completed my G.E.D, multiple programs, Art programs included. I’ve earned my associate degree and six credits towards my Bachelor through the ‘Education Justice project.’ I am ambitious, I’d rather listen than be outspoken. If you tell me something, I may write it down, so that I won’t forget. I may mention it in conversation, because the one thing we all want is for people to let us know they paid attention. I love to laugh, I have a serious side, but I am silly. I am grateful for ‘Hello’ and fearful of ‘goodbye,’ yet cherish it all the same.
EB: What do you want people to know about your art?
SR: What I want people on the outside to know about my art is, I am still learning. I want each piece to have a message. I draw for a purpose. I’m not one who wants the spotlight.
EB: And what do you want people to know about the criminal justice system?
SR: What I want people to know about the criminal justice system is that the system as a whole isn’t broken, it works exactly as the lawmakers intended it. Each bill is a thread in the web of entanglement, and the widow can amend as it pleases. $3.8 billion of federal funding were offered to the states to implement the crime bill, known in the states as the Truth-in-Sentencing scheme, where certain crimes will serve 85% or 100% of the sentence. It was said this bill would curtail crime.
It was no surprise crime continued to increase. Why? The funds used to build a militarized police force and more prison meant no more field houses in impoverished neighborhoods. Places where poor kids considered a safe haven, learning to play ping pong, basketball, baseball, Chess, checkers, and social skills were no more. The parks became a recruitment center for negativity. The men and women who steered us towards positivity were no longer there. Outdated books in school undereducated, minimum wage low enough to keep the working poor too tired to think past the next upcoming due bill. Kids hungry for success, too young for a job, too prideful to beg, joined the local economic way of mutual destruction, selling narcotics. Becoming entangled in this web. If lawmakers would have used that $3.8 billion to build community outreach centers, with job training, conflict resolution, after school programs, community policing where the police know our names before they know the charges brought against us… a system where politicians want to shake our hands before the election cycle, not during it…
The system has declared wars on so many things, covert wars on the poor. If we’re enemies of our own country to have war declared against, then at what point does the system allow us to surrender? You see, George Floyd was the George Floyd of countless unnamed, unfilmed, and unbelieved in a continuous assault against those who are voiceless. As I witnessed the abuse done by my own father, his position was, I can’t beat them (the police who not only broke his body in the ‘80s but his spirit) so I’ll beat my family.
If we ran to those who broke him, for him to quit breaking us, then we would lose twice. So we accepted the lesser of two evils in hopes of survival. When survival is counted as success, instead of success being the way to survive, the system is working against its constituents. Maybe this is the complex of those who contribute to this web believing since the affluent have lawyers, they can disrespect, yell, and disregard their authority. They’ll continue to abuse, murder, and oppress with impunity those who have no representation (the poor and disenfranchised). Where lack of discipline emboldens, to the point of murdering while being filmed, unarmed bodies that war was declared against. Now the flames have come in hopes the wings of this country will become as the phoenix to arise from the ashes as a nation, not just great for some, but a nation great for all. MAKE AMERICA GREAT FOR ALL! This is what I want people to know about the system.