The Tower Book was conceived by book artist Beth Thielen in collaboration with San Quentin artists and women at the California Rehabilitation Center. Its accordion-style pages, built to fit inside a model prison tower, feature mugshot-style images of the incarcerated, photos capturing not the person’s worst moments, but rather their greatest personal triumph: the achievement of insight.
The original inspiration comes from historical photos of convicts holding boards showing their conviction and sentence. And now?
“They’re holding boards that re-define their sentence as well as their ‘sentence of insight’ of what they’ve learned about themselves during their incarceration,” said SQ art instructor Katya McCulloch.
The plan is to make 30 towers, so that each participant can keep one and the other ones can be for exhibitions and collections in places like The Getty Museum, The Library of Congress, Stanford, Emory and Columbia colleges and other prestigious institutions.
“It’s an art project, but it brings self-reflection as part of the process,” McCullough said.