California Model, Rehabilitation

Art inspires change at PBSP Facility D

Whales swim in an undersea environment in a painted mural.
Incarcerated artists at Pelican Bay State Prison are beautifying the institution through murals.

The gray corridors are starting to be a little brighter on the Level II facility at Pelican Bay State Prison (PBSP) thanks to the creative art of the Mural Crew. Self-taught incarcerated artists are helping transform the former security housing unit (SHU) one cell and one mural at a time.

Meet the crew behind the PBSP art

John Saesee

Man in white shirt stands in front of an undersea-themed mural.
John Saesee.

“I’ve been incarcerated for 14-and-a-half years on a sentence of life without the possibility of parole for first-degree murder. I spent the first 10 years of my sentence in utter darkness with no directions. I had no reason to change, let alone participate in programs or do anything positive for others. Full of negativity, I was always grumpy and angry. However, unseen forces, the forces of God, began to bring hope. Hope to one day have a chance at freedom. I am now happier than I can remember. I surround myself with people – my team – who are also in pursuit of self-betterment.

“After, I was introduced to Arts and Beautification, I became a part of the Mural Crew. It feels good to create art with the team. It makes me feel valued and appreciated. When people compliment us on our art, it makes me feel like I’m part of something greater than myself, doing something good for others. I never got complimented much growing up. I was a negative kid and adult whose only motive was to satisfy my own selfish desires. Today I live a life of service for others, creating a better environment for my temporary community. That is my way of giving back.”

Bunthoeun Roeung

Man in white shirt stands in front of an undersea-themed mural.
Bunthoeun Roeung.

“I am 44 years old and have been incarcerated for the past 25 years. Since 19, I’ve been serving a life-without-parole sentence. Art has always been part of my life. Its beauty and essence lies in the fabric of our humanity. It allows us to connect and communicate with each other. As one of the Mural Painters here at PBSP level 2, having the privilege to create art that is positively impactful is a blessing. It gives me a sense of purpose as I help to bring any kind of goodness and (show that change is possible).

“Being part of this art program, is bigger than myself. I am able to use my time and energy to be more productive (while) being part of goodness and change. It’s a road to amend my sins and mistakes that I’ve caused on for the people I’ve hurt. Art is process allowing us to learn, to grow, to be mindful, and to forgive. That is why I am hopeful art can bridge gaps that was once unthinkable and impossible. This process has further taught me the value of work ethics, healthy communication and interaction with others.

“Additionally, I am able to use these experiences in my college classes through College of the Redwoods. However, this on-going progress here would not have been possible without the support of Warden Jim Robertson and his administrative personnel including inmate artist/instructor Kit Paepule. Change is possible. Success achievable. With every brush stroke, the color of life and humanity unite.

Giang Nguyen

Man in white shirt stands in front of an undersea-themed mural.
Giang Nguyen.

“I’ve been involved in the Arts and Beautification program at PBSP for over two years, and a member of the Mural Crew since its inception in November 2018. Getting transferred to Pelican Bay has been a gift from above, a divine intervention. I discovered my passion for painting and at the same time, I’m able to pursue my academic goals and personal growth.

“Now I have the privilege of sharing my love of panting with the world – be it teaching others or beautifying the walls of Pelican Pay. My hopes and aspirations are that our murals and artwork inspire the artist within everyone. Because for me, art is an expression of one’s soul. Within our soul there is potential for goodness and beauty in us all. Therefore, when I paint with joy and love, there’s a part of me in my artwork – a reflection that I hope brings beauty, joy, and warmth to a place once known for only its ugliness, and to change the stigma attached to the residents of Pelican Bay. A tall order, but to be honest, I am honored to be entrusted with such a task.

“Thanks to the support and vision of Warden Robertson, CDW Bell, AW Barneburg, and CRM Losacco, Capt. Berg and Lt. Pieren whom are all instrumental in creating an environment that ensures the success of all the positive programs on D Facility. I believe Pelican Bay level 2 could be the standard-bearer for CDCR. Therefore, I am forever grateful for playing a role in making D Facility what they envisioned Pelican Bay could be. A special thank you and credit to my mentor Kit ‘Rock’ Paepule. Without his vision there would be no Mural Crew, and without his tutelage, there would be no me.”

Fernando Viera

Man in white shirt stands in front of an undersea-themed mural.
Fernando Viera.

“Little did I know that Pelican Bay would change my life for the better. I didn’t arrive here by choice, but today I count it a blessing to be here. I am thankful to the administration in charge, starting with the correctional officers up to the highest ranks for their efforts to making this level 2 the best in the state. The opportunity given me to participate in the Arts Beautification program is incredibly gratifying because I am able to help produce art that I hope would be inspirational for people. When my fellow inmates and staff compliment my artwork it gives me a sense of satisfaction, but more importantly, it makes me feel that I am helping others besides just myself.

“Since joining the Mural Crew, I have started my pursuit to earn my G.E.D, additionally, participated in Pelican Bay’s community project, GOGI, OGA, AA, NA and Creative writing. These positive programs have helped me change the way I think and the way I behave towards others. I fully accept my responsibility for all the harm and sorrow I have caused to so many people.

“I am no longer the young person that I was. This place has helped me in my faith in a higher power and to trust in him. And for the first time in a long time, I feel hope. Every day is a blessing and I do my best to give back. I sincerely thank Warden J. Robertson and the administration, fellow co-workers and peers who have all contributed to helping this Pelican Bay level 2 in D facility work, and in helping to create an environment where we could learn, grow, and become better human beings.”

Jeff Newvine

Man in white shirt stands in front of an undersea-themed mural.
Jeff Newvine.

“I have been incarcerated since 1995 for committing first-degree murder, sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. I participated in CSP-Los Angeles County’s Honor Program. It was a unique opportunity to program with, and learn from, fellow LWOPs and lifers who were serious about becoming better people through restorative justice and educational programs.

“While there, I earned my GED and joined a group called CROP (Convicts Reaching Out to People). This experience proved to be as helpful to me as it was to the at-risk youth that we worked with. To make a difference in their lives, I couldn’t just talk the talk, I had to walk the walk. With them, I shared the reality of prison life and the consequences for breaking the law. I also shared what I was doing to make positive changes in my life, while encouraging them to do the same before they ended up in prison.

“I was told I would never see a Level 2 yard, but at 49, with nearly two decades of being disciplinary free, here I am at Pelican Bay’s Level 2 Facility. After completing their Personal Insight Exploration class, where I gained an honest understanding about myself and my commitment offense, I accepted an invitation to be one of their facilitators.

“I joined the GOGO group and learned about tools for positive decision making, which I now use in my daily life. I graduated the Arts and Beautification program, in which I fell in love with painting. Since then, I have been assigned to the Mural Crew. I am proud to be on a team of artists with a shared goal of painting the world’s longest mural. In my heart, I am painting my way home.”

Uriel Gonzalez

Man in white shirt stands in front of an undersea-themed mural.
Uriel Gonzalez.

“I’ve been incarcerated for about two decades now and presently I find myself in this privileged situation to be part of a Mural Crew here at Pelican Bay State Prison. Not in a 1,000 years would I have thought of being a member of such a talented group of painters, and I would add another 1,000 years to the fact that I never thought I would be doing this in prison.

“Nonetheless, I am truly honored and humbled for this opportunity and privilege that has been bestowed upon me. It is also quite remarkable to see the ambience it has created with the group of painters, our authority figures, and the remaining population. What a difference ‘painting’ can make. I just want to express my gratitude humbly to all who have contributed in bringing this vision to fruition, from the dreamers, as well as to the facilitators. The one cannot exist independently from the other.”

Derron Mclead

Man in blue shirt stands in front of an undersea-themed mural.
Derron Mclead.

“I am a 56-year-old first-termer inmate, incarcerated 34 years for conspiracy to murder. Most of my incarceration time was spent on different level 4 yards, which hardened my way of thinking. Now that I have worked my way down to a level 2 facility, after 24 years on level 4 facilities, it has had a real big change on my way of thinking.

“My big chance came when I enrolled in the Arts and Beautification program here at PBSP. My hardness has had a major change. I have bonded friendships with men I would have never thought possible on a level 4 yard. Before enrolling in this art program, I never knew how to paint or draw, and that all I thought I was going to do was learn a few things about painting. What actually happened is I learned the beauty in all types of art, and because of art I look at the world around me, the sky, trees, etc. with awe at the composition of colors which in everything is beautiful.

“I enjoy donating some of my painting to charities to help change someone’s life for the better, and one day I hope to share my new found love for art, which I’m still learning about with others as well as my situation, with someone who might be at risk to end up in this situation I’m in now.”

Curtis Carroll

Man in white shirt stands in front of an undersea-themed mural.
Curtis Carroll.

“My name is Curtis Carroll but I go by Wall Street. I specialized in investing and creating a philosophy called FEEL (Financial Empowerment Emotional Literacy). When I arrived at PBSP in 2018, I was introduced to the painting program. I had no interest in painting and at first glance at the work, I wasn’t optimistic about my chances of learning to paint. However, I found it taught me a new set of expression. With the canvas I can express positive emotions, build bridges, and encourage healthy relationships. A picture really is worth a thousand words.”

By Lt. Kenny Price, AA/PIO
Pelican Bay State Prison

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