In the late 1980’s, an “old lifer” at the California Men’s Colony took Douglas Ingham under his wing and taught him woodworking to keep him busy and out of trouble. The results of many years’ dedication to his craft speak for themselves, including an armoire with an etched mirror (top left), a prayer box (bottom left), and a glass-fronted cabinet (right) with rose vines etched into the glass.
Rehabilitation has no limits, as many prisoners like Douglas D. Ingham have discovered while learning to manage their time in prison. Some find various ways to express love for their families, friends and communities by being creative.
Ingham has been working with wood since 1989, while he was incarcerated at California Men’s Colony (CMC) in San Luis Obispo. He befriended an old lifer who had an old “B” CDCR number; in prison when someone has an old number, they are looked up to and respected by the in-side community.
“He took me under his wing,” said Ingham. “He told me he was going to teach me woodworking to keep me busy and out of trouble.”
Ingham, now 58 years old and incarcerated for 34 years, recalled his journey back then during the late 1980s at CMC. He explained how his then friend and mentor, the old lifer, taught him the lessons of the trade. Ingham took those lessons to heart and created many projects, including a jewelry box that he gave to his late mother for Mother’s Day in 1993.
During his last year at CMC he dedicated himself to this project for his mom that took him over one year to complete. He made and designed the jewelry box that later on became known by his family members as “Mom’s owl box.”
Ingham proudly described the owl box during an interview as one of his most precious babies. Its solid birch construction measures 22 inches across the back, 16 inches deep, and the mirror rises 30 inches from the tabletop.
When asked about the benefits he gets from creating these crafts he replied. “When I am in the creative mood, it gives me a sense of peace. The whole world just goes away.”
He points out that he is able to escape from the drama in prison in a constructive way. Woodworking also gives him a viable trade and the opportunity to give back to his family and friends, as well as to the communities inside and out of the walls.
Ingham has been at San Quentin State Prison for the past 29 years and during these years he continued working with wood until the woodshop was shut down in 2015.
He is also a proud U.S. Navy veteran who served his country around the world for four years prior to his incarceration, and he has been part of the veterans’ support groups here at San Quentin for many years. He has created and donated many of his crafts to charities in support of the U.S. veterans across the nation.
Years back, the wife of one of his friends who now has paroled asked Ingham for a prayer request box that she could put in her suitcase when she would travel across the state of California for the Catholic Church. She gave him the dimensions that she wanted, and the only other specific request she had was that box be able to be locked; this would gave the prayer re-questers the sense of security and privacy for their prayer requests. Other than that, she gave Ingham creative freedom.
The body of the box is burl walnut, the top is cherry with a tiger maple inset, and it’s lined with Spanish cedar that features a hand-rubbed finish.