b.1956, Eureka, California
“I make things because it is in me. In my previous cell I painted a porthole open to the night sky and a ship - the Ship of Fools. I imagined being on it, going out through the universe.”
“We lived in a trailer, moving with each new construction job and when I hit high school we settled in a small trailer community. At sixteen I was doing drugs, as was everyone in school.” Married and divorced before she was 18, Stimpson then married the man who became her partner in crime. “He was older and I thought very wise - but he was extremely abusive - I saw no way out.” Convicted of assisting his abuse of his daughter, also a teenager, Stimpson received two forty-five year consecutive sentences.
Her first paintings were scenes of the California desert towns she had lived in, small neat buildings set in a vast plain. She painted things simply, front porches furnished with homey objects meant to symbolize a life she longed for. Incarceration gradually became the greater reality and the scenes of fields and open roads were framed by bars and cell doors.
Stimpson was granted parole from the first forty-five year sentence after serving the minimum required time. Several years ago, she was one of fifty inmates shipped to a for-profit jail in another state. “We had 15 minutes to pack. They lined us up alphabetically - the warden went down the row and said you can do it. It was like the 1940’s, fixing to be put in cattlecars - a 15 hour ride with 1 small can of orange juice, 1 1/2 oz of water, one sandwich. I cry when I write about it, a trauma that I pray will someday fade.”
Stimpson has repeatedly been denied parole on her second forty-five. She was eighteen when she comitted her crime and has been locked up for nineteen years. Her record is spotlessly devoid of disciplinary action - she is fully engaged in every positive activity available - she has educated herself - created art and music - worked in jobs which gave her commendable recomendations - volunteers tutoring other women and counseling fellow inmates with substance abuse problems.
Seeking parole is a long battle. It is unpopular to parole people, even if they have paid their debt and changed for the better. Stimpson’s new painting tells the story. Your Unforgiven. Will they ever let her out - for a few years of freedom - in this life.
Prison Art: Oklahoma City University, Oklahoma City
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Cell Block Visions: Prison Art in America