Robert, 66

Robert, 66

Meet Robert…

I can’t always articulate what I want to say or put my feelings into words. But as soon as I grab a pen or dip my hands into the paint my emotions flow on to the paper or canvas.

Incarcerated: 25 years

I can’t always articulate what I want to say or put my feelings into words. But as soon as I grab a pen or dip my hands into the paint my emotions flow on to the paper or canvas. I don’t use brushes when I paint my Hope Not characters. I love art in all its forms and mediums. Art has been a constant companion throughout most of my time in the system. It is more than just a hobby or something to do to pass the time. Art is the air I breathe, and the sea I swim. I’ve cultivated empathy and reconnected with humanity as a result of practicing art, and honing my skills. Once I realized my ability to create I developed a sense of self-worth and confidence I never had. Arts In Corrections has been a vital part of my rehabilitation. There was a time when it was shut down and canceled across the state, so for more than a few miserable years California prisons did have any art programs. Then in 2013-14 I was at RJ Donovan prison in San Diego and volunteers from San Diego University began a pilot program called Project Paint. The workshops and classes I was allowed to participate in have been some of my best memories in prison. All artists were welcomed and appreciated. Along with drawing and painting techniques I also learned 3D art. I started making Hope Not dolls in RJ Donovan. Each one is unique with recycled materials, its own mask, usually a gas mask or sugar skull. If you’re interested in making a donation to Cystic Fibrosis or Autism charity in exchange for a Hope Not painting or doll, Humans of San Quentin has my contact information. Even though I’m sentenced to life in prison, art has given me freedom.

Sean’s Gallery

Sean’s Gallery

Artist Sean, 34

At 17, I was transferred from juvenile hall to the county jail and held in isolation. The day after my 18th birthday I was moved into a dorm full of adult men. I was young and scared. I met two men who I would eventually be sentenced to more time than the two of them combined, life without the possibility of parole (LWOP), plus ten years for an enhancement; all for a crime I did not commit. During this time, I met an older Hispanic man covered in prison tattoos. His tattoos and prison experience made me nervous as he sat in the dayroom drawing. I was captivated by his effortless skill. After I got up the nerve to approach him, he was pleased to share his artistic knowledge. Using blank white paper and hair grease bought from the commissary, he taught me how to make tracing paper, then shade with graphite pencils, rolled up toilet paper, and elementary blending of colored pencils. My artistic journey began slowly and mostly consisted of simple cartoon images, but I was hooked. I enjoyed drawing and the peace it gave me.

Over the next several years, each new artist I met, I would ask for tips and advice. I found my passion in colors. I ordered books on colored pencils and studied them intently. I practiced their techniques, pushed beyond my comfort zone and began adapting my own techniques utilizing my accumulated knowledge.

Nearly two decades later I am sharing my artistic knowledge with others. Colors are still my passion and I see them in a way that allows me to blend them into vivid colors. I have always loved creating my art and sending it home to share with my family. I never thought I would be able to share my art on a platform such as Humans of San Quentin and I am honored to do so. There is very little beauty or color in prison, but even the concrete and steel cannot stop me from creating the colorful art I love to share.

Raul’s Gallery

Raul’s Gallery


Artist Raul, 63

Paper Coffee Painting

How do I paint with coffee? Instead of paint with brushes, I use a paperclip to paint. Using the tip and slanting the paper clip sideways paint larger spaces.

It is tedious work and requires patience and a steady hand.

The first step, I use a small plastic medicine bottle cap to place the coffee into. I use Folgers Freeze-dried roasted coffee. I scoop a small amount of coffee into the cap flush and even. It’s a very small portion next, I use only a couple of drops of water into the coffee.

Making the coffee thick, and dark. Stir evenly to smooth out the syrupy coffee. It’s ready to go! I use a large paperclip and bend it to a semi-straight point. I do draw with a pencil first if it is a detailed painting, but I do paint freehand.

Can’t remember if you’ve read my “Thank God it’s Friday” story but it’s about a gift of giving and serving, back in the midst of my past pediatric phlebotomy days. That helped me develop a steady hand back then too!

What does paperclip coffee painting do for me? It gives me a peaceful and calming in the midst of our incarcerated/quarantined life away from our family (no contact visits). Limited access to showers, yard, cold food, and impossible social distancing. I miss all of you, followers, free-staff, and my family. I haven’t seen my family (regular visits) in over 2 years.

I hope you like the story and paintings. Thank you, Diane, Juan, and the awesome loving Humans of San Quentin team. I totally miss you guys.



Donnie, 46

Donnie, 46

Meet Donnie…

Growing up in the eighties, fast food was everything and nothing was bigger, or cooler than McDonald’s.​

Anthony R’s Gallery

Anthony R’s Gallery


Artist Anthony, 32

My story is similar to a lot of people who know what it’s like to want more out of life, while struggling to become the best version of themselves. However, the road I traveled wasn’t paved with blue skies and flowers. I grew up alongside three brothers during the ‘90s, raised by a single father who thought the central valley of California would be safer than the cold, southside of Chicago. It soon became obvious that the ugliness of poverty was anywhere we called home, yet my father still managed to give his best. Throughout my early childhood, I learned to busy myself in order to blur out the bad things. I picked up books and read until I was no longer in my reality, but immersed in the story and world created by the author. This began my curiosity with creative writing and anything to do with the arts.

As humans, we all have the ability to express ourselves in many different ways, whether negative or positive. Myself, I choose to mix the two in order to create a strong, captivating message in hopes of inspiring change.