THE ARTIST AS PRISON VOLUNTEER
Of course we have heard a lot about artist as prisoner, they are shoo in in that environment. As a matter of fact, it seems like prison is the only place for him. That way, he would be left to commune with nature, with everything associated with creativity. With no one to bother or badger him except his fellow denizens who are like him wanting to be alone even if in a crowd.
I have heard of religious persons wanting to indulge in prayerful tasks, visiting, feeding and assisting prisoners. For them, those serving time in correctional facilities are considered the least and lost, even if in reality, it is their victims who are really those who became least and lost in the process.
I have also heard of people from the academe who would rather spend their time and resources reaching out to promote education in the prison community. Whether it is expressed through willingness to serve by way of heroism or conducted with research as the bottom line, most correctional programs are actually pursued with zest and professionalism.
And of course, some professionals like doctors, dentists, nurses, scientists would dip their noses in the prison affairs not only to further their fields and experience, not only to broaden their scientific immersion and medical skills but also to test their acumen and patience in dealing with the most dangerous sector of our society.
But the most uncommon, nay atypical, or the most rare is to find an artist rubbing elbows with prisoners. I mean not the ordinary artist one finds in street corners haggling on handicrafts but the accomplished pedantic one. While there are a dozen entrepreneurial types, there are a few, if not a rarity of those who would spend time in arts in prison unless the person is serving time.
But of course, there is always an exemption. There is one Chris Woolcock, an Australian toymaker, a real, genuine, artist in the mold of the authentic type, the closest one gets to a Rodin or Guillermo Tolentino, all great artists. Chris went to visit the Philippines, got enamored of the tropical environment and in one crazy afternoon joined a group of locals on a visitation crusade in the National Penitentiary.
Never in the to-do list of the Australian toymaker that such a penitential visit would create in him that fixation to fulfill his art dream. Not in the comfort of his native Australia where he has a full shop with techie machineries and tools, but in some dingy corners of the correctional facility where crude tools are more resorted too than wishing for polished kits. He got stuck in prisons, would frequent his fledging training school cum blind alley and would refer to his prisoner enrollees as “my boys.”
Chris is definitely an old man but he never look like one. His art crusade must have transformed the senior citizen into an active sportsman of a bachelor. His wife in the great continent never understood the inspiration of artists abandoned him for good, a gesture which Chris welcomed like a blessing. Real artists are free spirits and are never restricted. Family life for them is sometimes considered a curse. In return, his family also sees him also as a pest.
And so, Chris the artist, the toymaker, the Peter Pan of art world, never had a bad hair day whenever teaching the craft to prisoners. He would trek the bureaucratic layer of prison security, a procedure stiffer than climbing the base of Mt. Everest, negotiate with a number of check points from the entry gate to sub-gates leading into the innards of the prison community, reaching up to the corner where he finally had organized a small nook for artists or fledging ones attentive to his craft. And he would be there on a regular basis.
And so Art, that simple movement, not the commercial one but the hobby found itself in the prison community and for as long as Chris the itinerant genius hovers around, that little nook may someday become a mecca of creativity and eventually the symbol of what ingenuity really means.