I have only met Dominic Newsome through letters. This is because Dominic is incarcerated in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, in the same institution political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal called “a bright shining hell.”
We became acquainted when I lived in Philadelphia and was working with the Human Rights Coalition, an organization of prisoners’ families. We received dozens of letters each week from people, mostly Black men, behind prison walls. They asked for legal referrals, told us of atrocities being committed by guards, of legal railroading. Some just wanted to connect with people on the outside — ours were the only letters they received.
It was in this that I got to know Dominic. I met him through his letters, but I came to know Dominic through his art. The first drawing he sent of me was Harriet Tubman. I pulled it from the manila envelope with his clear writing that grew like vines on the front. I could not believe the detail, the intricacy, the emotion he accomplished with what looked to me to be a pen and a regular sheet of paper.
I learned later it was not actually a pen — it was the inside of a pen, which is the only writing instrument prisoners in restricted housing are allowed (Mumia Abu-Jamal used that to write several books). Supposedly it is because the round casing of the pen could be used as a weapon. Given that prisoners in restricted housing are locked down 23 out of 24 hours a day, that they have no physical contact with anyone but armed guards, and that visits are conducted through thick plexiglass that distorts the faces of loved ones, it seems more an attempt to suffocate the creative fire of these overwhelming Black and Brown folks.
Continue reading “Warriors Behind Walls”