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From Prisoner to Performer- C-Note; Decoding the Secret of Communication Through Art



As they say, an artist should never be a prisoner of himself, a prisoner of style, reputation, or success. But what to say about an artist who is a prisoner over a bogus charge? Prisoner; a demeaning word that changes a person’s whole identity, but some people take a jab at social norms and voice their opinion even when they cannot roam freely.

According to a study, over 2 million people are imprisoned in different confinements in the United States. So how do they pipe up their opinions, ideology, and emotions? Unfortunately, prisoners have minimal options, one of which is art, famed as Prison Art. Also, it’s their way of fighting against the false and controversial portrayal of them through the media. Prison art allows them to tell the world about the injustice of authorities.

Something that has come up a lot over the years is that through doing this art form, people are reminded that they’re human beings.”

-Saul Hewish

Art of any form can channel sorrow and help heal it. It can be very therapeutic and help express and release stressful emotions. A prisoner experiences a barrage of negative and traumatic emotions amplified by loneliness.

Serving a 35 years sentence for merely pointing a knife in his defense, Donald Oliver Hooker is one of its kind prisoner artist. Hooker, famously known as C-Note, is an American prison artist, poet, playwright, and the King of Prison hip hop.

C-Note got imprisoned over a futile reason. He had no one to represent him as an orphaned and adopted kid. C-Note wanted to express his grief for the injustice to the world, so he chose art. He acts, writes, and paints. C-Note came into the limelight when he wrote and performed in a play called Birth of a Salesman, where he played the role of Money Mike. The opening act to the Redemption in Our State of Blues was performed by him in California State Prison in December 2015 and later re-acted in March 2016. Several politicians attended the play, which caught the attention of many renowned activists and NGOs working on prisoners’ rights.

C-Note’s artwork primarily revolves around the travails of women, from the maturing woman, Diana (2016), mothering in gang-infested and high-crime areas, to Tears of the Mothers (2016), illustrating the helplessness of the incarcerated women. In 2016, C-Note created a painting, pantoum, and a play, called Life Without the Possibility of Parole that surrounds the story of women fighting against the deceit system.







In 2017, C-Note’s masterpiece, Incarceration Nation, was considered the United States’ premier work of art on mass incarceration. The painting was featured in various digital and print media. The artwork channels the strength and resistance of prisoners in the face of racism and oppression.

Celebrating black women through his art, C-Note created another classic piece of art called Colored Girl Warholed. It was a great moment because a prisoner’s art was featured on the billboard for the first time in history. The billboard was featured in Silicon Valley, California, from 17 October to 16 November 2021.

C-Note’s artwork is internationally famed and acclaimed. In 2016, his painting Mprisond marked a place in an art exhibition at the CB-1 Guest Gallery in Los Angeles. The same year, his artwork Modern Girl was presented at Escaping Time Prisoner Art Exhibition in New York. C-Note was featured in People Magazine. He appeared on many digital and print media, including Public Television-Los Angeles (KCET), ABC-Los Angeles (KABC), Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles’s Artbound, Darealprisonart Inside CDCR, KCET’s Departures, Prison Action News California Prison Focus, and San Francisco Bay View. In 2017, C-Note was touted as World’s Most Prolific Prisoner-Artist by Google.

C-Note is an activist; despite being incarcerated, he has donated and fundraised millions in many public and private sectors for criminal justice. He bestowed his notable artwork, The Art of Incarcerated and Black August-Los Angeles, for fundraising.

In conclusion, C-Note has had an incredible life journey. He is currently imprisoned and serving his 35 years sentence. Fighting against all odds, C-Note is doing great work. Through his artwork, he depicts his grief over the unfortunate situation that life has served him. But it’s not only C-Note whose helping himself through art; his colleague prisoners are also following the same

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