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Jul 11, 2015

Prison: An Ancient Aspect of Modern Life

"Singing Into Wings", bronze by Tim Holmes
America harbors a particularly harsh attitude to convicts. Even if a wrongdoer serves their time on very minor infraction (like public nudity) can follow one forever. For instance only two states allow felons to vote, tragically confusing punishment with citizenship, as if an offender is no longer a person. Bathe yourself in a moving song by women stuck for life behind bars. They are people, too, and though we love to lock the door and throw away the key when we think we've caught a criminal, are we not hypocrites?

The famous Stanford Prison Experiment revealed how easily people step into roles that contradict their natures to conform to circumstances. Stanley Millgram, son of WWII refugees, wished to know how good people could perpetuate such horrors as the Holocaust. So he designed an experiment to see if normal people would injure others if instructed to so do. They did. To a frightening degree!

Some people are truly dangerous and need to be removed from society but what most of us need when we fail is a "reasonable" punishment, not deadly retribution, and a path toward reconciliation. Even judges are constrained by draconian laws passed by congresspeople who pander for anti-crime voters. Long imprisonment is only called for in extreme cases. Incarceration is one of the most primitive aspects of contemporary life. We like to punish wrongdoers because we can get away with the same sort of behavior (why?, maybe because we have lighter skin color, or the judge was in a good mood?) We'll never know how many innocents have been wrongly imprisoned or executed, though DNA testing is exposing hundreds of such cases.

Humans all misbehave in some way and only by recognizing that commonality and focusing on outcomes rather than retribution will we be able to reach a mature sense of community. We should treat offenders the way we treat family members who do wrong: address the situation, fix the problem and try to help the offender return to positive relations with their community. That would be one mark of a truly civilized people.
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I'm a sculptor/filmmaker living in Montana, USA. I am using art to move the evolution of humanity forward into an increasingly responsive, inclusive and interactive culture. As globalization flattens peoples into a capitalist monoculture I hope to use my art to celebrate historical cultural differences and imagine how we can co-create a rich future together.

I see myself as an artist/philosopher laboring deep in the mines of joy. I've had a good long career of exhibiting work around the world and working on international outreach projects, most notably being the first American to be invited to present a one-person exhibit in the Hermitage Museum. Recently I have turned my attention from simply making metal sculpture to creating films and workshops for engaging communities directly, tinkering with the very ideas and mechanisms behind cultural transformation. I feel that as we face tragic world crises, if the human species favors our imaginative and creative capacities we can cultivate a rich world to enjoy.

For me the deepest satisfaction in making art comes in engaging people's real life concerns rather than providing simple entertainment or decoration. Areas of conflict or tension are particularly ripe for the kind of transformative power that art uniquely carries. I invite any kind of challenge that serves people on a deep level.