The Incarcerated, COVID-19 and ‘The Writing on the Wall’

By N. Jamiyla Chisholm Jun 11, 2020

COVID-19 continues to be dangerous for people who live behind prison walls and the new guerrilla art installation, “The Writing on the Wall,” by famed artist Hank Willis Thomas and anti-incarceration activists from the Incarceration Nations Network, will be unveiled today (June 11) at an undisclosed location in Washington, D.C., at 9 p.m., according to a press release.

In collaboration with OpenboxMASS Design Group and The Illuminator, the installation features essays, poems, letters, stories and notes written by the incarcerated that focuses on the disproportionate impact they face regarding the novel coronavirus. The project came out of Thomas’ collaboration with D.C.-based multimedia artist Robin Bell, whose work has highlighted such topics, like the COVID Memorial.


“Mass incarceration is at the heart of everything that is happening right now—both the pandemic and the protests,” said Baz Dreisinger, INN founder and professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, in the statement. “The Writing on the Wall has always been a kind of interruption, interjecting the voices of people behind bars around the world in public spaces so people are compelled to read them. Now more than ever we need to make this dramatic interruption so people do not forget: Let’s heed these voices and center them in the heart of cities, right in the middle of a pandemic and a mass movement.”

In addition to the writing, the presentation will feature live music by music artist C.S. Armstrong, and an Instagram Live conversation on INN’s social media account with Cure the Streets, the Office of the Attorney General’s (OAG) Violence Interruption Program; OAG’s Restorative Justice Program and The WIRE (Women Involved in Reentry Efforts).