“My two daughters Jacklynn and Lilly were the ones that inspired me to create these teddy bears,” said Ezekiel Gonzalez, 51, a resident of San Quentin.
Gonzalez’s talent seems anything but ordinary inside prison walls. He sews handmade teddy bears and stuffs them with cotton, a craft and its products not often seen in a world of metal and concrete.
When he first arrived at a level-four institution, the weather was so cold that he decided to improvise with the limited resources at his disposal. “When it was raining and [I was] walking around the yard, the bitter coldness was numbing my fingers,” said Gonzalez. “The first thought that came to mind was to make some gloves.”
Gonzalez did not know how to sew, but he still tried it. He soon discovered that he could be creative, so he sewed to keep himself and others warm during the winter.
His four-year-old daughter loved the color pink, so he made her a 15-inch-tall, pink teddy bear. Unfortunately, the post office returned the pink teddy bear to its sender and the prison discarded it upon arrival.
The artist estimates that he has produced more than 600 teddy bears since 2017. Each has its own unique nature and character. He has made ballerina bears, newlywed husband-and-wife bears, and a cowboy with a 10-gallon hat, chaps and a lasso.
During football season, sports fans like to display their NFL teams. Gonzalez receives many requests for bears with team logos. He recently made a Green Bay Packers bear and a Dallas Cowboys bear.
“I created a butterfly bear that represents a new way of life and says that change is possible for all those who want to do good,” said Gonzalez.
The master behind the needle and the thread is open for any challenge that comes his way.
His artistic skill goes beyond creating teddy bears. For example, he has made stuffed boxing gloves modeled on the type professional fighters use.
He also tailors clothing for those who like to look good during visits with their loved ones.
One of his biggest accomplishments is a long-sleeve shirt constructed from a blue bed sheet, indistinguishable from one professionally made. After finishing the shirt, he realized that he was good at his new enterprise.
“Sewing has helped me in my rehabilitation and with my inner inhibition,” said Gonzalez. “I use sewing a lot as a therapeutic measure to cope [with] the daily challenges that prison life brings.”
Through his craft, the artist has found peace of mind. Sewing relaxes him in ways that he never knew possible.