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Conversations, stories and perspectives from returned citizens in Southwest Ohio

ReEntry Stories: Advocating For Art Opportunities On The Inside

Aimee Wissman at Returning Artist Guild in front of her artwork
courtesy of Aimee Wissman
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Aimee Wissman is an artist and co-founder of the Returning Artist Guild.

Returned citizen Aimee Wissman was an artist before she went to prison, and while she was inside, she never stopped making art. She continued to create art and was able to sell her work and pay for her own supplies while incarcerated. After her release, she co-founded the Returning Artists Guild in Columbus.

She spoke with ReEntry Stories series producer Mary Evans at the Returning Artists Guild Gallery about the impact Covid-19 has had on her new position at the Ohio Prison Arts Council and how she is not letting the virus stop her from advocating for other incarcerated artists.

Transcript: (edited lightly for length and clarity)

Aimee Wissman is her ART photo
courtesy of Aimee Wissman

Aimee Wissman: Part of the work that I do in general is just talking to people that are incarcerated, talking to my artists that are inside, trying to get their work out, etc. And that relationship changed a lot through Covid. Several of the people I communicate with are in Pickaway and in Marion, one of which is my brother. So just kind of like supporting them through their illness because they all got sick. You know, I work for the Ohio Prison Arts Connection and they support so much of the arts access and the people that are trying to create arts access and just watching that community come together and try to figure out how to keep connection and, you know, people that go into these facilities and work in there and what it means for them to kind of co-experience for the first time a little bit of isolation or loss of access to things or a little bit of a privilege kind of loss has been interesting. And it's also been really beautiful to see how they've worked so hard to find ways to remain connected.

I think the added barriers are really that people that are incarcerated right now, some of them are still experiencing like limited movement and, you know, lack of access to places where they might be able to create things. So even if there was like a call for entry or one of their work, some of them are even having problems making work right now. But I think there's there's a lot of opportunities in it as well. You know, we've come up with creative new projects and the Ohio Prison Arts Commission has been really good. They've been getting new media into the prisons. And so things that are on closed circuit television are getting more interesting or more valuable. There is a creative care package that's going out. So it's like a 40 page packet of like writing prompts and drawing ideas and call for entries and just kind of access, I guess, in some ways, to creative things. I think that there will be a lot of really cool work and great shows to curate kind of after some of this balances or normalizes.

Mary Evans: Are there any words that you'd like to speak on about some of the difficulties that you think some people may be experiencing right now?

Aimee Wissman: I can say this. I had to wait until I had served almost three years of my sentence because there is a barrier when you were incarcerated of education access, meaning if you don't have five years or less to your out date, regardless of potential for early release or anything like that, you are not eligible to take college classes. So I had to sit for three years and then I ended up getting released early so I didn't get to complete a lot of my classes. And then I had to come out and complete them, which I did. I graduated with two associates degrees from Sinclair, and then I used their track into
OU.

With all of the Covid things that I've seen happening in terms of organizing or advocacy I've wanted to jump in so many times, but I've been kind of on the fence because of sort of my position. And I wish that the advocacy was directed towards holding these facilities accountable for the amount of people that they are allowed to house. I sort of think it should come down to A, build more prisons, which I hate that, or B, reform this system. And I think it's unfair that, quote unquote, public safety has now trumped these human beings' right to public health.

Mary Evans: Well, thank you, Amy. I really appreciate you. That was Amy Wissman, artist and founder of the Returning Artists Guild.

ReEntry Stories is created at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.