Four Artists: Their Stories in Brief
“It’s easy to do a bad thing, it’s hard to do a good thing.”
b.1959, Fall River, Ma.
“Art is the only thing I ever did in my life that didn’t get me into trouble.”
Ronnie White dropped out of school after sixth grade, and took to street life, crime, and drugs. “I was hooked on sniffing glue and maybe that’s where my style of art originated. When I sniffed I could see and hear things nobody else could experience, like an old rag stained with grease became an escaped puppet from the circus. It spoke to me and did tricks. I was in a world that I became obsessed with.”
At seventeen White was serving time for burglary, car theft, and shoplifting, and has been in and out of prison ever since. He was arrested this last time for attempted burglary. “I got involved in crack cocaine and heroin and alcohol pretty heavy because of my failure to adapt to society after spending over half my life in institutions. While being escorted from the courtroom to the holding cell, I slipped off a cuff and ran. I was caught on the second floor by court officers, charged with escape, found guilty, and sentenced as a habitual felony offender and given the max. My release date is 2027”
White has always served much of his time drawing. He is known as a pen man, a virtuoso with a ball-point, much admired by fellow prisoners. He allows the pen to roll in the shadows of the dim light and watch for “the spirits of the medium” - that’s when he’s doing what he calls “my own stuff.” “Lately, I’m drawing the things the convicts expect an artist to draw - clowns, flowers, animals. I do it to get what I need from the canteen - ”
“I know deep in my soul I have the makings of a master in my blood. I realize this because when I’m working sometimes I get these excitable feelings like I’m really on to something. The path is easy to follow. It’s not my mind that gives me these messages, it’s my soul. I want my work to be recognized for what it truly is, as pure as snow. “
Hands of Time, Thorne’s Market Gallery, Northampton, Ma.
Ronnie White won the first prize in drawing in the Prison Life Magazine annual national art contest. His work has been reproduced in magazines and journals and is a part of prominent private collections.
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Cell Block Visions: Prison Art in America