Photo credit: StartosXIII / Shutterstock.com
Pelican Bay State Prison is located in the northwest corner of California. It sits right along the Pacific coast, covering 275 acres.
It is one of the state’s Supermax facilities. Opened in 1989, it contains more than 1,000 solitary confinement cells, each measuring just eight feet by ten feet. Prisoners receive a concrete ledge and a foam pad for their beds. Two concrete cubes serve as a chair and a desk. []
Additional space for a general population environment is also included. This year, the prison’s mural crew donated hand-painted guitars to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
The Project Was More Than a Chance to Make a Guitar
“This project has given all of us a chance to be defined, if only for a brief moment, but something other than the worst moments of our lives,” said Kevin Yocum. He was sentenced to life in prison in 1986 after having his parents killed. []
The mural crew painted the guitars for the Radiothon fundraiser Country Against Cancer for St. Jude. Six instruments were donated by Bicoastal Media for the artists to create, and then they were auctioned on eBay.
Those guitars raised $11,500 for pediatric research.
“Having the opportunity to produce art for a sacred and significant cause for the children of St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital is a treasured gift that I humbly accepted and cherished with deep gratitude and love,” said artist Bunthoeun Roeung. “While painting on the guitars, my mind and energy were centered on helping the children and their families find some comfort.
Roeung was a member of the Asian Boyz street gang in the late 1990s. He was convicted on charges of ten attempted murders and six murders. []
All the artists used their personal art supplies to complete the project, along with several hours of their time. Many of the mural crew members said that the work gave them a sense of purpose while having a chance to contribute to their community in some way.
Each guitar was given a theme. The concepts ranged from one paying tribute to Johnny Cash to another that honored the military branches in the United States.
“Children are the future,” said Curtis Carroll, “but don’t always get the opportunity to grow into their dreams for reasons out of their control. I hope these guitars bring smiles to the faces of the children and their caregivers.
“It softens my heart to know that we helped to better the lives of children,” Carroll added.
Many of the Pelican Bay Artists Are Self-Taught
The corridors at Pelican Bay were often gray and gloomy. Lieutenant Kenny Price and others worked to create the mural crew project in November 2018 to transform the security housing unit at the facility into something brighter, one painting and cell at a time. []
Many of the prisoners were introduced to artistic concepts through an Arts and Beautification course held at the prison a few years ago.
“I was a negative kid and adult whose only motive was to satisfy my own selfish desires,” said John Saesee. “The first ten years of my life sentence were spent in utter darkness with no directions. I had no reason to change.”
“Today,” Saesee continued, “I live a life of service for others, and to create a better environment for my temporary community.”
Uriel Gonzalez was convicted of four counts of attempted murder with deliberation and premeditation modifiers. “My prayers are with every dearly beloved soul at St. Jude, and hoping this drop in the bucket is of benefit physically, emotionally, and spiritually.”
The resounding success of this year’s project has organizers already looking at what is possible in 2023 and beyond. Many of the artists are already thinking about how they can contribute their talents to continue helping kids in need.
More information about St. Jude is available at https://www.stjude.org.
[] Pelican Bay State Prison (PBSP) - California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation; [] Hanford Man, 21, Gets Life for Arranging Murder of Parents - Los Angeles Times (latimes.com); [] 4 Asian Boyz Face Possible Death Penalty - Los Angeles Times (latimes.com); [] Art inspires change at Pelican Bay’s Facility D - Inside CDCR