Justice

This Project Let Incarcerated Artists Expose Corporate Crime

Despite the massive impact of a single misdemeanor or felony conviction on an individual person, corporations that commit crimes in the name of commerce are rarely held accountable. Jeff Greenspan and Andrew Tider created the "Captured" project to expose corporate crime, and asked people in prison to paint the CEOs and chairmen of corporations who have committed crimes against the environment, U.S. government, and general population.

Koch Brothers

Joseph Acker, who painted the Koch brothers (pictured above), is serving a 10-year sentence for receiving stolen goods, ID theft, and being a felon in possession of body armor.

Koch Industries has committed bribery, supported terrorism, sold petrochemical equipment to Iran, and secretly funded groups that deny climate change and oppose clean energy. It is also one of the top 30 polluters of American's air, water, and climate, according to Captured creators Tider and Greenspan.

Corporate crime often goes under the radar.

Tider and Greenspan were struck by the contrast between how violations of law impact individuals and corporations.

"If any individual did any of these things they would certainly go to prison for them," co-creator Andrew Tider told ATTN:. "But what was happening was all these companies were basically just paying fines and saying, ‘Hey, sorry about that’ and no one was going to prison."

Du Pont Chemicals

"We were like, 'This is insane that this really what happens in our society, [it] feels really unjust to us, but imagine how it feels to someone who is actually in prison,’" Tider said, especially for prisoners incarcerated "for a relatively minor crime."

How they did it.

"We want to make a distinction that we use the CEOs and chairmen as proxies for the company themselves," Greenspan told ATTN:. He explained:

"If you join the Genovese crime family, let's say, theres no doubt it's a crime family. I'm not suggesting that it says on your business card that you're the leader of a crime family, but you know what the organization does. If you step into a position of power at one of these organizations: Pepsi, HSBC, Credit Suisse, you know the acts that this company has engaged in. And these companies that we've called out, they have not done this once or twice or three times. We chose companies that have a systemic history of abuse of the system and the law."

HSBC, one of the groups mentioned by Greenspan, opened accounts for Al Qaeda financiers, laundered money through off shore branches, did business with drug cartels, and committed fraud and conspiracy that reportedly contributed to the 2008 housing crisis. The world's third largest bank ended up paying $1.9 billion settlement on drug laundering charges, as AlterNet reports.

Captured HSBC

Mario "A.B." Beltran, the artist who painted HSBC Chief Executive Stuart Gulliver, is serving three-and-a-half years behind bars for receiving stolen goods. In contrast, Gulliver has not spent time in prison. You can see how the crimes stack up:

Captured HSBC

John Vercusky, who painted PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi, is serving 22 years for armed robbery.

PEPSICO CEO

Nooyi is accused of overseeing a company that hired private armies to force indigenous communities out of Indonesian land. PepsiCo also polluted and degraded land and drained already-scarce groundwater water in India to produce bottled water that was virtually unaffordable to its impoverished communities.

Pepsico

Once Tider and Greenspan started working on the project, they discovered that getting in touch was more than a little tricky.

“We reached out to wardens who unceremoniously told us to pretty much go away,” Tider told ATTN:. “We reached out to people from prison arts programs and those people told us not only to go away, but that this type of a project would never ever get done. So then we were both like, 'It's definitely gonna get done.'"

Tider said that his collaborator spent a lot of time combing through prison art pages on Facebook and eBay looking for contacts. "Jeff then took it upon himself to spend a lot of time going to places like eBay and Facebook and looking for prison art," he said. They reached out to numerous family members and loved ones who ran the pages.

"[We were] trying to find really high quality stuff, and reaching out to whoever was running the page, which is often a family member or a loved one and asking them about whether they were interested in the project. Eventually that led to a few people saying yes. That took on a life of its own, because once we had several artists who were working on it, the project kind of went viral within the prison system. One artist would tell another 'Oh you draw? I'm drawing, and I'm working on this project, maybe you should connect with them and get involved as well.' Then we started getting people writing to us, and a lot of them were really talented, and we were able to work with them."

Each prisoner who worked on the project was paid $100 for their contribution, Greenspan told ATTN:.

They wanted to create an exchange.

Tider and Greenspan wanted to spur conversations about injustice between prisoners and corporations.

"Andrew and I were thinking, 'How could we get those two entities to look at each other?'" Greenspan told ATTN:. He explained why this was so important:

"While we weren't able to get them in the same room, we were able to get these incarcerated artists to sit down and look into the eyes of an image of the leaders of these corporations, and on some level, if the CEOs of these corporations see this artwork, they can, in some way, look into an inmate."

JPay

Some of the corporations included in the project have also contributed to the prison system itself. JPay, whose CEO Ryan Shapiro (pictured above) was painted by Thong Vanh Louangrath, pays a commission to prisons that use their services and encouraged prisons to deny inmates to see their loved ones so that they could profit off video-only visitation.

J Pay

"Not only do they break the rules, they actually make the rules," Greenspan told ATTN:.

The "Captured" creators have tweeted the project at some of the CEOs and major corporations they included, who have yet to respond.

Greenspan said they considered what it might be like for, say, "the CEO of Walmart or the CEO of BP or the chairman of the Credit Suisse looking at this project and saying, ‘Wow, you know, someone behind bars had to take the time to look at the crimes that my organization I represent committed.'"

The project showed them what goes on in prisons.

Greenspan and Tider spoke to all the inmates whose art is included in the projected, some over email, others in letters or over the phone.

“We got a letter from an inmate the other day who was trying to explain the treatment that they're receiving behind bars and the hunger strikes that go unreported,” Greenspan told ATTN:. "It's a very disturbing letter to receive from an inmate that you've gotten an artwork from and have had, in a small way, a relationship with. And the one who wrote the letter— that's just the one whose letter was able to actually get out. Letters don't always make it out."

Prison Letter

"When we started this project Andrew and I had a clear goal of exposing corporate crimes, and we thought that a juxtaposition of those incarcerated was an interesting way of showing it, but reviewing this project and the people we've met, we've learned a lot about the injustices of the prison system," Greenspan said. "And who knows—Andrew and I might do another project that focuses more on that."

Proceeds from The Captured Project Go Toward Supporting Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Tider and Greenspan created a book of the artworks, and are selling it and donating the proceeds to efforts to get Sen. Bernie Sanders elected. Sanders has pledged to support the arts if he is elected president, as Artnet points out. Once they cash the check, Greenspan said that he and Tider will each donate the maximum individual campaign donation, $2,700, to the Sanders campaign. They will dedicate the rest of the funds to "grassroots groups" seeking resources to create content or hold Sanders campaign events that might want to bring in speakers or need services such as video-editing. Greenspan said that the response to their use of the funds has been "overwhelmingly positive."

"We haven't identified any of these [specific groups] yet," Greenspan told ATTN:. "I can't call them out by name or speak on their behalf."

He added, "There are a lot of independent groups creating content or working to get [Sanders] elected on a volunteer basis."

The collaborators also said that if the inmates are interested and supportive, they might like to exhibit the project in galleries alongside the letters they have received throughout the process.

Captured Book

"The reason that it's Bernie is because the main pillars of his campaign are holding these corporations to what they've done, and reforming the criminal justice system," Tider told ATTN:. Greenspan has also tweeted at Democratic primary front-runner Hillary Clinton.

Tider and Greenspan hope that the book will trigger conversations about corporate crime, criminal justice and mass incarceration. Though the first print is sold out, you can join the waitlist online to get a copy if and when another pressrun is available.