It’s an issue we must discuss, this controversial question of what the rights of prisoners should be; where the line should be drawn. I’m not exactly sure where I stand concerning the selling of art by and for serial killers. But there’s an organization, called The Fortune Society, which makes it possible for the incarcerated to profit, through self-created notoriety, with self-created artwork.
Founded in 1967 and based in New York City, The Fortune Society is one of the preeminent ex-prisoner service and advocacy organizations in the country. Its mission is to help former prisoners and those facing prison time by providing the foundation from which new lives can be launched, and to educate the larger community on key issues related to criminal justice and the underlying causes of crime. Funding for the not-for-profit organization comes through private contributions and government grants.
They are a “guilty party” to this controversy, the enablers, and this is a typical response to the auction:
An online auction of artwork by a serial sex killer triggered outrage in Massachusetts on Tuesday where lawmakers proposed to block criminals from profiting on what they called “murderabilia,” setting off a debate on free speech rights of prisoners.
A colored pencil sketch of Jesus Christ kneeling in a desert by Alfred Gaynor, a serial killer serving four life sentences for sodomizing and choking to death four women, went on sale on Tuesday on a Web site operated by a prisoner advocacy group.
It was one of nearly 300 artworks offered for auction through December 18 on The Fortune Society’s Web site. If sold, nearly all proceeds from the work entitled, “A Righteous Man’s Reward,” will go to Gaynor, the group said.
The article goes on to reveal that legislation has been submitted by Rep. Peter Koutoujian, a Democrat, that would provide a variation of the “Son of Sam” law, since Massachusetts is one of the few states not to have such a law in one form or another. The “Son of Sam” law requires convicted criminals to surrender profits from books and movies or other deals based on their stories to victims or the state.
America’s first such law was passed in New York after “Son of Sam” serial killer David Berkowitz was offered big money for his story. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down that law in 1991 but it was retooled and put back on the books in 1992.
There are more than 30 states with such laws that have been unchallenged, mainly because they are so seldomly invoked.
The Supreme Judicial Court, Massachusetts’ highest court, said in 2002 that an earlier version of the law violated free speech provisions in the state and federal constitutions. Koutoujian, a former prosecutor, says the auction underlines the need for the law.
His description of his submission:
This is a piece with Jesus praying for all men and women to one day come to him in prayer so that one day we could all truly be brothers and sisters in heaven.
(What kind of rip-off is this “heaven” place that would accept such creeps as Gaynor?)
After seeing “A Righteous Man’s Reward” by Gaynor, I’m tempted to say he deserves not a penny: It’s a piece that appears to have been crafted by a child. Yet it’s has the highest bid so far of $250.00 so maybe I’m no art critic.
Some really impressive pieces of art, sculpture and “baubles” are visible at The Fortune Society site, and considering ability alone, some of the artists deserve reward for their efforts and abilities. Had some not been incarcerated, their works would surely be in an upscale art gallery or two.
Consider, too, that some of these artist are seriously challenged for supplies necessary to create their pieces.
Artist Ramiro Gonzalez says:
I’m here in the SHU in Pelican Bay Prison and we’re not allowed to have colored pencils, so everything we draw is with a ball point pen and everything else we have to be creative. With this piece, I used coffee for the color brown and the other colors on the bear. I used Skittles – wet them a little bit to extract the color – and then paint the drawing. I use my plastic state-issued spoon to scrape color off old magazines and TV Guides and then rub the color dust into the drawing until it takes. As you can see, we make do around here with what is available.”
Others use soft drink cans, folded paper, plastic straws, soap, coffee cups, dental floss and other abstract materials. It’s each state’s choice how many or how few art supplies the inmates have access to: Some states are generous, other’s extremely restrictive.
Constitutional right to free speech is the issue here, not whether any of these guys should be considered artistically gifted.
I believe they should have the same allowances regarding free speech as anyone outside of a prison, but I cringe to realize Gaynor’s work is going to sell for hundreds of dollars. That, to me, is a crime!
Update: During the time I took to write this, Gaynor’s piece was purchased by “potsie” for $250.00.