I recently finished a work in time for Southern Exposure’s no-fee, Northern California-only juried exhibition: Proof. The new work, Sentence, is the largest piece I have composed to date, and is the largest work in the yet-unnamed series. Unfortunately, the work was not juried into the exhibition, but I always enjoy the opportunity such propositions offer.

Continuing my work in the Die Prügelstrafe trajectory, I approached this piece as the endpoint for the new series. A prisoner generally knows his release date and surely keeps it in mind each day of his tenure of incarceration. According to statistics released by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (data from July 30, 2011), 49.4% of federal inmates are currently serving 5 to 15 year sentences.

That’s quite a long time, and moreover, that’s quite a lot of tax dollars.

How would one get through each day? We live far from the criminal underworld that exists behind bars, a subculture most of us are only aware of through cable TV shows or thoughtful magazine essays, but perhaps a few of us have neared it and visited someone through a glass pane. The majority of us will never experience the complete loss of freedom as a result of the justice system. While our civil liberties have been continually eroded in the decade since the catastrophic incidents of September 11, 2001, for the most part, if we are well-adjusted, tax-paying consumers, our freedom is generally intact.

The work is composed with acrylic paint on masonite, and the markings of the composition have been made with a knife. The viewer must examine the space they share with the work and engage their freedom to move about. But, unlike prisoners within the correctional systems generally restricted (if not expected or mandated) to modification of their perspectives within a cell, viewers enjoy an untethered dance with the work.

An interesting point to note: below, from the Wikipedia entry on Incarceration in the United States, created from data available from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, is a graph of the incarceration rate in state and federal prisons from 1925 to 2008. This chart shows a spike in incarceration population of males beginning around 1981 and skyrocketing from 1984 to 1992. President Ronald Reagan began his effort in the War on Drugs around 1986, restating a term first used by President Richard Nixon in 1971. Reagan’s Vice President, George H.W. Bush, suggested in 1982 to employ the Central Intelligence Agency and United States Military in drug busting efforts, two agencies typically thought of as protecting national security interests, providing defense from or combating international war (Bush was the Director of Central Intelligence from 1976 to 1977.) According to the July 2011 statistics aforementioned, 50.7% of federal prisoners are serving time for Drug Offenses.

Sadly, as Mike Lofgren points out in his essay for, the United States has the largest incarcerated population of any country on earth.

Sentence contains a grid marked by a knife, partially filled in with 484 hash marks. The incomplete grid, representative of an unfinished sentence, once complete would hold 2280 marks, or in terms of time, enough hash marks for a prisoner serving a 76-month punishment.

Sentence (angular view), acrylic on scored masonite, Chris Rusak 2011

Acrylic on scored masonite
2011 – 11-035

¶ 2011·09·11