Inmates Fly to Freedom in Kansas City

I write letters to prisoners. I have done this for years now, and have written literally thousands of letters. Somewhere along the way the correspondence gave birth to an art project—an aggregation of objects that has provided the source material for sculptural work that I have been creating since 2013. 

That year, I received a paper airplane from one of my correspondents. The plane itself—thefolds, the textual content, the illustrations it carried—was loaded with messages, but because it came from a prisoner, the object carried an even deeper meaning. An object that would typically connect me to childhood and creativity had been transformed into an object representing sadness, urgency, and pain. That plane (and the many more that followed) was a vehicle of escape, missed opportunity, and in some cases, rebellion for its creator.

As the collection grew so did the similarities between these prisoner-created objects. Each one is different than the next, however each one is immediately recognizable as an artifact from a place of incarceration.

Each inmate has a unique way of designing and decorating their plane. They vary in size. They are constructed from a wide array of papers. Some are made from notebook paper, some from drawing paper, commissary lists, denied appeals, behavioral write-ups. They are covered in poems, pen work, drawings, letters, color. They vary in theme from regret to hostility, from bravado to humility. Collectively, they give insight into a world separated by “temporal, spatial, and cultural borders.”

When the collection is displayed, I organize the airplanes in a grid, each one-foot away from the next. After a viewer’s close up and far away investigation, these objects translate into a conversation that is charged, enlightening, often heated, but never uninteresting.