ARTIST: Sarah Ross
Department of Creative Survival
The U.S. incarcerates more people in the world than any other nation. Each year people enter U.S. prisons at an unprecedented rate, based on new laws and ideas of safety that, even thirty years ago, were unheard of. Upon release even more laws and regulations prevent formerly incarcerated people from finding jobs or otherwise living equally in society. What is the effect of mass incarceration and what is the outcome of time spent caged in small places, often in rural towns? Among other things, incarcerated people hone skills, become resourceful, and tap their creative spirit. Malcolm X wrote revolutionary books, Stan Tookie Williams wrote children’s books and Donny Johnson painted using the pigment of M and M’s. The creative and revelatory skills of people who have survived prison is an asset that must be harnessed. Thus, the Department of Creative Survival is an agency that is managed by and employs people formerly incarcerated in state and federal prisons. The Department finds creative solutions for those in need of jobs, housing, clothing and food. DCS works one on one with those in need, working to rebuild communities using creative and often unconventional strategies for survival.
Example of DCS solutions
One common problem for people coming out of prison is that they cannot find a place to live. After their release, prisoners often ‘must have a land line phone,’ or are ‘restricted from living within 1000 feet of a school’. Many are released only to find more hardship in the free world. The DCS will work with former prisoners to develop creative solutions for living with these solutions: designing living quarters elevated beyond the restriction zone and patching land-lines to unserviced housing.
The DCS will assist former prisoners and non-prisoners alike, who often share common challenges. People who have served long sentences often share with stay-at-home-mothers, caretakers and other free laborers the need for a resume that reflects recent employment. The DCS will work with clients’ creative writing to develop a resume that contextualizes the skills and knowledge accrued in prison or in positions of care/free labor. These assets will put a DCS client front and center in the job market.
On-going DCS work:
While the Department of Creative Survival will assist in the day-to-day survival of any clients who visit the Dept., DCS is strategically aligned with the prison abolition and prison reform movements. As those movements continue to decrease the number of prisons, and therefore prisoners, the DCS will adjust accordingly and disband when needed.