The Art of Prison Cell Decoration


Shawn transforms his drab surroundings through the art of prison cell decoration, turning it into a lively space that reflects his creative vision.

It begins in the boredom and redundancy of my small, confined space. The symmetrical alignment of the walls, the paved cement floor, and the industrial steel toilet/sink and desk, combined with the steel bunkbed and cabinet, all make up the canvas of my artistic expression.

My artistry tools are four ragged rugs, one prayer rug, and three colored towels. Sometimes, I include T-shirts. The process is measured.

I sit for a moment or two perched on the toilet’s edge, staring at the blankness of my canvas until the pattern approaches me. Then, like a ravenous fiend, I rush to transform this space into a place.

But first and foremost, my canvas must be clean. I wipe the paved cement floor with an old sock soaked in soap and water. Next, the canvas must be stable and secure. So I stretch out a white bed sheet on the floor, binding its edges to the base of the bed and desk. The three towels and four ragged rugs are the primary tools of my creativity. Sometimes, they’re arranged in symmetric angles to form a triangle. Other times, they are lapped like shingles.

It’s all about the angles! Shall I arrange them in parallel, with rugs and towels running the length of this space? Or shall I create a contrast, with the towels running the length and the rugs running the width? Or perhaps parallel them in width: towel, rug, towel, rug, towel, rug, towel, rug?

The way the colors combine and blend, the geometrical shape created by creativity loosens the knot in my chest and anchors me to the present of this (now) place. The ragged rugs provide a motif of several colors that neither clash nor contrast. The rough and soft textures create the feeling of balance, replacing the spiritual obstruction of this lifeless space.

And now I exist in a place. I am no longer lost in some indescribable space—at least until I get bored with this place and replace it with another. The prayer rug is the accent. Green and beige are garnished with a beautiful pattern design. It betrays its purpose; it speaks less of servitude and more of extravagance.

I place the rug on the desktop, its edges dropping over the side like an exotic awning. To highlight the green tinge, I compliment it with two equally green shirts draped over the desk seats (two of them). And if the mood takes me, I’ll place it on the floor, paralleled in width by the two beige towels, then two ragged rugs, and drape the desk in the gray.

When people peer inside, their eyes tell a tale of admiration and wonderment. But their inability to see beyond this space quickly impregnates their mind to see nothing more than futility. Yet, I continue to design and create more facets of my place beyond this space.

Shawn Harris #DC3424
Pennsylvania Department of Corrections
Coal Township
PO Box 33028
St Petersburg, FL 33733

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