In 2009, Jesse Krimes (yes that is his real name) was sentenced to 70 months in a federal penitentiary for cocaine possession and intent to distribute. The judge sentenced Jesse to a minimum security prison in New Jersey, close to support network of friends and family, but the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) opted to send him to a medium security facility in Butner, North Carolina.
His way of coping with the life-changing sentence went a bit more differently than you would expect. He got by with a little help from federal prison bed sheets, hair gel, The New York Times, and some color pencils. Although money was limited in prison, he never struggled to gather enough money to purchase these objects. You might be thinking these are random, but, in fact, they are what made prison life a somewhat more passable experience.
While experimenting with these four materials, Krimes discovered that he could transfer the newspaper images onto the prison bedsheets. At first he used water to do this, but that did not work. Hair gel, on the other hand, had the requisite viscosity to do the job. He was not aware that three years after, he would end up with a 39-panel mural. Each transfer took 30-minutes. Thousands make up the mural. Krimes only worked on one bed-sheet at a time, each of them matching the size of the tabletop he worked on. The laborious routine kept Krimes sane, focused and disciplined.
“Doing this was a way to fight back, the system is designed to make you into a criminal and make you conform. I beat the system.”
Apokaluptein:16389067, the title of the piece, derived from the Greek root ‘apokalupsis’ which means to uncover, or reveal; 16389067 was Krimes’ Federal Bureau of Prisons identification number.
“The origin [of the word] speaks to the material choice of the prison sheet as the skin of the prison, that is literally used to cover and hide the body of the prisoner. Apokaluptein:16389067 reverses the sheet’s use and opens up the ability to have a conversation about the sheet as a material which, here, serves to uncover and reveal the prison system.”
The content of the mural varies but, for the most part, it is a meditation on heaven, hell, sin, redemption, celebrity worship, deprivation and the nature of perceived reality. According to Krimes, his entire experience of prison is tied up in the artwork.
“The work is a depiction of represented reality as it exists in its mediated form, within the fabric of the prison. It was my attempt to transfer [outside] reality into prison and then later became my escape when I sent a piece home with the hopes that it could be my voice on the outside in the event that anything bad ever happened and I never made it home.”
During the three years it took to complete the piece, Krimes was able to put his artistic talent to the service of others, as he established art classes for fellow prisoners in an institution that was devoid of meaningful programs. The men, compelled by Krimes’ work, helped him complete some parts of the project. (via Prison Photography)