J: After you've set down these two rules, what's your role in the classroom?
P: I give them initial projects to find out how to guide them in a direction that's going to be true to themselves. Because everyone is there for a different length of time, I want something to happen immediately. I've developed certain projects that will make that happen. One of the main things I do is to insist upon completion, insist upon effort, and care and heart, and I speak about these things. So the most common thing I say is, "That's really fabulous, and it isn't finished."
J: What do you see as the benefits of your class?
P: That's a big question, because the benefits are huge, and they run all the way from stress release to a change in lifestyle—from idleness to productivity, from negativity to positivity. I've even seen a lot of people change physically, when they see that what they're doing can be called art, and they can call themselves artists, rightfully so. Then they do stand up straighter, and they're cleaner, and they look better.
More and more these days I'm after real, radical transformation. I go quite beyond the recreational, therapeutic mode, and I want people to experience their best selves in action. I want them to see that they are much more than victims of circumstances. I do everything I can to access this best, most true, beautiful part. Ultimately, it's a spiritual experience for them, because when they go all the way in, what they find there is... everything— the whole goodness of the universe. That's what I'm after. Coming from a true, deep place, excellent art is the by-product. I'm there to make sure they stay with it until it's finished. The results are beautiful works of art that are recognized by people in the art world, important galleries and museums. In terms of the prison staff, they're mostly interested in the fact that this is a good management tool, because people are sitting in their rooms drawing instead of getting into fights. There's also a phenomenon where the people in prison are beginning to connect with each other in a way that's positive and peaceful. So when a new guy comes in, and he's afraid because he doesn't know what's going to happen, and sees another guy drawing, he might walk over and say, "Oh, what are you doing? I draw, too." And, "Oh, do you? Let me see what you're doing." And then there's a way for people to connect and create, in a way, a field of positivity.
J: What is that inclination to stop before the work is finished?
P: It's a lot of things. I think it's the old, familiar, "This isn't any good, and I'm not any good." It's the force of inertia, which could also be defined as the force of evil. I experience both when I wake up every morning. One part of me wants to stay in bed, and the other part wants to get on with the day. I think it's a common force in human nature. It can also be fear that stops people from completing their work. People might begin something spontaneously. It usually has a fresh look to it, and then there's fear that they might mess it up. So, I speak to them of courage and commitment, and they have to learn how to finish a piece, and we'll see if they finish it with care. If they care about it, they're not going to mess it up.
I don't really work with them on their issues. I just insist that they do it. What are they there for? I'm not a therapist, and I'm not a parent, and I'm not a grade-school teacher or anything. The most effective thing is for them to get on with it and to do the work. I've had people many times say, "Okay, this just isn't happening." Well, first of all, you can't say that because it's negative. And secondly, you finish it anyway. I don't care if it's happening or not. Just turn around and look down and finish it. That's often the moment when people become completely absorbed in their work