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Artists transforming Corcoran prison gyms – Inside CDCR – CDCR

Featured Stories, Rehabilitation
Staff and incarcerated artists are transforming the gyms at California State Prison, Corcoran, from blank concrete walls to works of art.
While the inspiration came from Coach Heidi Wippel, the hard work was put in by volunteer artists such as Everardo Rincon. He has been helping paint murals in the 3A Gym featuring sports heroes including Kobe Bryant, Fernando Valenzuela, Tommy Lasorda, Jackie Robinson, Serena Williams, Steph Curry, Larry Bird, and Pat Summit.
The gym has now become a place the institution can showcase especially during special events such as Danny Trejo HOPE Events, Between The Lines Outside Basketball Team, and the various visitors who come to inspire prison residents.
For the incarcerated population, the murals create a place where the creative work of various artists can be admired and inspire other artists to sharpen their skills.
Since COVID-19 prevented many traditional recreation programs, Wippel pitched the idea of focusing on the arts to help inspire the population while also offering some hope.
This project would not have been possible without the support of Principal Randy Clem (Education Department), Officer Dohnke (Gym Officer), and Hugh Neely (Television Specialist).
Listen to the audio interviews with Rincon and Sandoval (or read the transcripts below):
Submitted by Coach Heidi Wippel
RINCON: I caused a lot of pain in the streets. I hurt a lot of people and this is a way I want to give back. We feel sorry. We got remorse for what we did and that we want to change. We want to show the world that we’re really trying to go out there and do positive things.
COACH WIPPEL: I just want to tell you, this project that you are working on in the gym, it’s fantastic.
RINCON: Thank you.
WIPPEL: Can you please tell me a little bit about the project that you’ve been working on here in the gym?
RINCON: We’re working about a couple of months already. We started doing the Sports Legends, but I think we’re getting there. We’ve got half ways already. We still got a long ways to finish it, but I’m really looking forward to get it done as fast as we can and make this place look better and make her look happier. I think that’s a good way so that when you come to the to the gym, you can see.
WIPPEL: And it really does. I mean, you guys have really capitalized on the space that you have to work with. The art really comes to life in here. And I think more than anything, it’s inspiring because of the people that you have chosen to put up on these walls as well. One of the things I wanted to ask you about was when did you first notice that you had a gift for art?
RINCON: I didn’t know how to draw. Coming to prison and seeing prison art: it gave me like a little… Seeing art, it’s a good way to stay out of trouble, but at the same time make you think. Patience. You need a lot of patience. So I wanted to learn. I started drawing little cartoons. Seeing other people’s work inspired me to be better and get better. So I start practicing. Through the years, I can’t say I got better, but I’m proud of myself.
WIPPEL: I think something people should understand is that you come in every day or most days that you paint or you’re drawing and you volunteer your time.
RINCON: Exactly. And it’s a good way to show and give back. Basically, it’s our community. So that’s what we’re trying to do is give back and show them that we really want to change.
WIPPEL: Having something positive in your life is very powerful. Everybody needs to feel that they have a purpose, and everybody needs to feel that they have something that they can give to someone else. And you definitely have figured out what you get for it.
RINCON: I got my family out there. I got my family support. But (I) appreciate you guys opportunity for you guys make all this happen. Appreciate it. Because it’s a… we can’t do everything by our own.
WIPPEL: Is there somebody in the community outside of prison that inspires you?
RINCON: My family inspires me to be better and to be a better person every day. I see, locally, it’s a… it’s a show, or there’s videos where a lot of persons, they show their talent. And I see a lot of good artists, they’re out there and I think they’re the ones inspiring me to be better. There’s always… there’s always a time to change. Might take time, but there’s always hope. And faith. And I want to tell others, don’t give up and keep your hopes up. And there’s always a… a time for everybody. And I think patience is more important. Be patient. Everything is possible.
WIPPEL: Powerful words live by. Thank you for your time.
RINCON: Have a good day.
COACH WIPPEL: Morning. How are you doing, Mr. Sandoval?
SANDOVAL: Good morning. I’m doing good. How you doing?
WIPPEL: Good. So you have a lot of beautiful artwork here.
SANDOVAL: Thank you.
WIPPEL: Very impressive pieces.
SANDOVAL: Thank you.
WIPPEL: When did you first realize that you had a gift to draw?
SANDOVAL: I grew up admiring other people’s work. And looking at other people’s work made me and my imagination… grow. And once I got arrested and started looking at different types of art, it started getting me excited. And I started little by little.
WIPPEL: So who would you say was your biggest inspiration when it came to your artwork?
SANDOVAL: Actually, it might not relate to my art, but my parents. My parents always taught me how to work hard. Work hard for stuff that you like, work hard for stuff that… that you want to… that you envision yourself doing.
WIPPEL: So the work ethic is kind of what you were inspired by.
SANDOVAL: Yes.
WIPPEL: And obviously, there’s a lot of detail in your work. Do you have one particular piece that you would like to share?
SANDOVAL: I’m a very big fan as a Dodger, so… as a Dodger, that was where my dreams to always become a baseball player as a Dodger. So, of course, I’m going to say, Mookie Betts and Mike Kershaw and my Dodger hat, you know, those are in my heart. Those are like blue. You know, I always say I have blue blood.
WIPPEL: Right.
SANDOVAL: So that might that might have to be my favorite piece. My Mookie Betts, you know.
WIPPEL: And that is a beautiful piece.
SANDOVAL: Thank you. Thank you.
WIPPEL: I do have to tell you, I am a Dodgers fan myself.
SANDOVAL: Oh, thank you so much. Thats…
WIPPEL: I do understand the blue blood.
SANDOVAL: Yes. Yes. Go, blue. Yes.
WIPPEL: And, you know, sports is interesting because to me…you know, it is something that brings people together. You know, there’s always…there’s a baseball game on.
SANDOVAL: Yes.
WIPPEL: It’s a great way to kind of focus on that. Now, you’ve taken it to another level because you have your art.
SANDOVAL: Yes, I agree with that.
WIPPEL: And your art allows you to show your love… of the game. So there is a very good chance that one day you’ll be leaving this place.
SANDOVAL: Yes, I hope so. And like you say, the art is a lot of good, just like the sports. They kind of go hand in hand because they help your mind. They help you. They exercise your mind as sports do. They keep you healthy. And my art does that to me. It keeps me hopeful. So for me to have the opportunity to help a little kid that might have cancer or might not have the money to buy a hat…for me, it makes me happy to provide that for a little kid and make him smile, make his day, you know. And that’s what makes me feel good.
WIPPEL: You have so graciously volunteered your time to create this art.
SANDOVAL: Yes.
WIPPEL: And given back, expecting nothing in return. How has that affected your rehabilitation, giving of yourself?
SANDOVAL: It makes me work harder because I know that my art is going to end up in places that I don’t even know where they’re going to end up. And it’s going to make people… It’s going to open doors for me. And it’s going to promote my work. It’s going to make people happy. And maybe someday I could I could make money out of my own work. But for now, I want to put my work out there. I want to be known. I want to learn. I want a grow. There’s always room to grow.
WIPPEL: When you find a gift, you know, in life as you have, obviously, this is truly… you’ve found your purpose.
SANDOVAL: Yes.
WIPPEL: You have others here that are struggling, maybe with thoughts of hopelessness.
SANDOVAL: Yes, yes.
WIPPEL: What message would you send to somebody, maybe a fellow person who’s incarcerated here?
SANDOVAL: Yes, I see it every day. I see it every day when I walk to the shower, when I’m walking around the building, I see every day that there’s guys that they don’t have nothing to do. They might be just sitting in their cell doing nothing or watching TV. And to me, it feels like they don’t have a life. So the way I like to help them is I like to I offer them some of my knowledge and I show them how to how to sew a sheet, how to do a short. I do shorts out of a shirt. I bought a shirt and I made some shorts because there’s some materials that we cannot have in shorts. So if we buy a shirt, make a shorts, and you could sell them, wear them. And so I like to help them, give them little tips how to sew, you know, how to make a profit, how to just make their imagination, you know, grow. I think that benefits me in how I feel and in doing my time and as well as my art because I keep growing. I help others grow. And then I keep growing as well.
WIPPEL: So COVID has been a difficult time because there’s been a very limited program.
SANDOVAL: Yes.
WIPPEL: How has your art helped you cope through these times?
SANDOVAL: OK. So COVID has given me work. I’ve been doing masks. I’ve been donating masks. That’s how I eat. You know, I donate. I make masks for some of the inmates. I donate masks for you guys. I sell my masks. So the COVID, even though it’s a really, really bad thing, it made my imagination grow and design masks, do different kind of types of masks. So not only that, but it helped me and it opened my mind to stuff that I never imagined, like donating masks to the Mercy Hospital, to the children’s hospital, kids that have cancer. And they could benefit from the masks that I make.
WIPPEL: So the Dodgers came up a little bit short this year.
SANDOVAL: Yes, they did.
WIPPEL: Do you have any predictions for 2022?
SANDOVAL: We will be in the World Series for sure. For sure, no doubt. And if you go to a Dodger Games, I want you to wear my Mookie Betts shirt there and a hat.
WIPPEL: I am honored. Thank you so much Mr. Sandoval. Is there anything that you would like to share with the world? One last message that you’d like to send to the world.
SANDOVAL: I’d just like to say that your mind can never be in prison. You can never lock up your mind so just be hopeful and dream big and never give up. Never give up and love life. Love life. That’s one thing you have to love, yourself. You have to love yourself to live happy, to be happy. So thank you. Thank you for showing my work and I hope I see you someday at a Dodger game. Thank you. Thank you so much.
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