Prisoners' Inventions is the result of a decades-long pen pal friendship between the Chicago-based art collective Temporary Services (Marc Fisher, Brett Bloom, and formerly Salem Collo-Julin) and an artist named Angelo who was incarcerated in California.
I first experienced this book as a gallery installation in San Francisco in 2003 and it greatly expanded my perspective on prison life, which had heretofore been informed by television and pervy mail sent to my P.O. Box in the '90s. The recreations of prison inventions were a wonder of ingenuity. Some were janky contraptions designed to fulfill a utilitarian purpose and others were beautifully crafted sculpture made from sparse resources like toilet paper and ink .
Accompanying Angelo's ballpoint pen illustrations and stories of roommate etiquette, there are chapters on subjects like cooking, gaming, sexual devices, grooming, working out, and arts and crafts . Everything from how to make a cigarette lighter using a wall socket to how to cook a pizza. The one thing you won't find are toothbrush shivs.
The drawings and writings in Prisoners' Inventions run counter to popular lore that primarily shows prisoners devising things to use to escape, get high, or kill or maim each other. Angelo's accounts reveal another side of prison existence: the need to create objects that allow the most basic human desires to be satisfied.From the foreword by Marc Fisher and Brett Bloom
In 2014, Angelo was freed after nearly 25 years in prison and went on to live a quiet couple of years filled with books, movies, and neighborhood walks in Los Angeles. He passed away of a heart attack in 2016 at the age of 73.
This is a special book and I can't recommend it enough. Buy it here.