2024 Opening Night

by Justin Rose

It was a warm sunny Tuesday evening. The birds were chirping. I smelled the scent of spring, new sprouting grass, a new life beginning to bloom all around me. Not just the actual physical world around me, but an inner blooming was taking place within me. Everything was new to me, new sights, new sounds, new feelings of happiness and joy completely filled my body. Light tingles and goosebumps covered my skin. I felt the good tingles running down my spine. It was like I was entering a twilight zone. I know the smile on my face, and the glow I was giving off, was a welcome to all. I felt the positive energetic vibes as I traveled with a fellow artist who was also incarcerated for many years, like myself. I was so amazed as we began driving from Grand Rapids to Ann Arbor and then around the large U-M campus.

I had just come home 2 weeks earlier on March 5th, 2024 after serving a 12-year sentence and it was not my first time being incarcerated. I actually had served a 10-year sentence before that, amounting to a total of about 25 years of my 39-year existence: incarcerated in the criminal justice system dating back to 1999, when I was only 14 years old. I have been locked up my entire life and have literally traveled into the future where the world has changed so much, including the people, that I don't recognize it anymore! I am so lost when it comes to technology. When I came home, I didn't ever have a smartphone before. I had no clue even how to turn the "smart" phone on, I was not smart enough to do so.

I didn't even recognize my own city anymore. Everything had changed. So I found myself wandering around the city, getting lost, walking miles in the wrong direction, riding the wrong busses, and feeling super overwhelmed, even feeling like ending my life after just regaining my freedom. Yes there are days since I been home that I have contemplated committing suicide, but the reason I don't is because the PCAP Linkage family would be very sad if I left this world early, so I fight through the world that wants to consume my innocence.

So about a week after I came home, I told Sarah Unrath, the PCAP Linkage Community Coordinator, that I had no family or friends in Grand Rapids and I was feeling all alone. Guess what Sarah did… she got Linkage artists together and came to Grand Rapids so I could meet some artists and make some new friends. We went to this restaurant in Grand Rapids I had never been to before called the "Old Goat". It was amazing. It was my first real food since coming home and the first hot honey jalapeño pepperoni pizza I had in my life. It was absolutely amazing!

Then a week later, on March 19th, 2024 I carpooled with a local Linkage artist and his wife: both very kind and sweet people. I knew instantly that they would be the right friends to have.

It was a beautiful unusually warm day for March, but it made sense to me that the day I had look forward to, that finally was before me, was a warm, sunny day. The birds sang, welcoming me to Ann Arbor. So the artist I carpooled with had been to the art exhibition at the University of Michigan several years before and many times, yet in the large maze of buildings on U-M campus, he too seemed to be lost. Once we found the right building, we had to find a parking spot, which seemed almost impossible.

I jumped out of the SUV like a kid at Santa's house in the North Pole. We arrived 5 minutes before the gallery opened and there was a huge line of people waiting to get in the gallery. I just casually walked to the front of the line, oblivious to all the people and at that very moment Emily Chase saw me and was so shocked, she had tears in her eyes and the biggest smile. She hugged me and let me into the gallery first.

I was in search of my artwork and I felt as if I had tunnel vision. I walked around the entire gallery and looked at every single wall but I did not see my artwork. It wasn't until I ran back into Emily Chase, that she pointed out one of 3 of my pieces in the gallery. Then she pointed me in the direction of my 2nd piece. I never did find my 3rd piece, which surprised me, cause of the 3 pieces being exhibited in the gallery, I would have thought that piece, titled “Drowning in Depression" which highlights my 25-year struggle with depression and suicide, would have been on the walls of the gallery, but it wasn't. Not saying the other 2 pieces weren't good or great, because they were, but they were different.

The piece one piece on the wall at the exhibition titled "The Ballerina" was made while I was in solitary confinement at Oaks Correctional facility in September/October 2022 and was not selected by U-M until I presented the piece in December 2023, because I decided I wanted to be able to explain the story behind the piece. It literally happened by accident, I went to solitary confinement and in there, you are not allowed any type of art supplies. Well, a little piece of charcoal was stuck to a t-shirt and once I found it, I used a piece of legal paper, to create “The Ballerina". I had no clue what I was drawing, but my imagination took over! That's how “The Ballerina” came about.

The second piece in the gallery, called Misconception of Reality", was a drawing that had a bunch of different eyeballs on it. The interpretation of the piece is that everyone sees the world differently. Two people can look at the same piece of artwork, see two different things, and have two different meanings! So that's the meaning I had behind that piece, but none of my drawings are pre-planned. I just let my pencil or paintbrush do its thing. I turn some music on and begin my drawing. I spend months and hundreds of hours on my artwork.

Last, but really first, was my piece at the 28th Annual Exhibition Of The Artist in Michigan Prisons was my piece titled "Drowning in Depression". It's about my personal struggle with depression and what I face each day. How on the outside I appear to be alright and on the inside, I'm really feeling alone and sad and not wanting to live another second. It's a battle I been fighting for 25 years now. And yes, having been in the criminal justice system for 25 years has made the depression even worse. So suicide awareness is a huge social issue that I'd love to talk about! Help people save their own lives.

Those were the 3 pieces I had in this year’s 28th Annual Exhibition Of The Artist in Michigan Prisons. Being at the actual exhibition in person was so surreal, my favorite part about the experience and being in person was seeing all my different friends, taking the stage, and being welcomed home by everyone! IT WAS A TRUE DREAM COME TRUE!!! I love everyone at PCAP and thank you to all the visitors.

Sincerely Everyone's,

JUSTIN Darrell Rose
FORMERLY #417265

love you all

My name is Justin Rose. U.S. Artist 10 years experience in abstract, realism, art deco, manga, landscape, still-life, photography, and tattooing.
Published writer and poet: 2016 & 2023


Article is made possible by the Linkage Community Journalism Initiative.
Photography by uptown24studio.com


Release Date: 04/22/2024
Tags: Prison Creative Arts Project