George “Mesro” Coles-El is engaging in social justice reform through art.
His two preferred mediums of art are graffiti and poetry.
“My main goal is social awareness,” said Coles-El, “Not all of my pieces are talking about social reform, but even my name is a social statement because it creates awareness around what people in prison are capable of.”
Born in Brooklyn, New York, the 42-year-old has spent 15 years incarcerated, with the last 10 as a resident of San Quentin. Around the yard, he is known for helping people learn math as a member of the Peer Literacy Mentor Program.
He is also a member of San Quentin’s gaming community, playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons and Magic the Gathering.
“When people look at me, they don’t see a web designer or a graphic artist, they see a hoodlum,” said Coles-El, “But if I come in clean-shaven in a suit, they assume I’m a Black Republican. That’s why my art portrays and displays our society’s most pressing issues — inequality and inequity.”
Coles-El defined these problems as an unfair difference in opportunities and treatment of different people.
He hopes to change people’s hearts and minds with his art.
Coles-El considers his graphic art vital to street culture and describes his style as “cartoony.”
“I’m a graffiti artist,” he explained. “Graffiti art is the street’s newspaper, plus it’s also used to beautify the streets.”
As for his poetry, he compares it to lyrics without music because he cannot write a poem that does not rhyme.
“When I’m writing,” he says, “I put my soul on the line because it might be the last thing that I write.”
Coles-El has an AA degree in Liberal Arts from Patten University through the Prison University Project and an AS in Web and Graphic Design from the Institute of Technology in Sacramento. Also, he said he has an honorary Master’s Degree in Can Control from the Zulu Nation, North Star Chapter.