Trans Artist Jamie Diaz on Parole After 30 Years in Men’s Prison

Artist and trans woman Jamie Diaz has been granted parole after serving nearly 30 years of a life sentence in a Texas men’s prison. While incarcerated, Diaz has made waves in recent years through her innumerable paintings and comics depicting the lived experiences and imagined realities of queer existence.

Diaz was born in 1958 outside of Chicago to a Mexican-American family and grew up in Houston, Texas. As a child of the ’60s, Diaz recounts being left to her own devices more often than not, finding mischief with her friends alone on the streets at night. Her mother was very supportive and nurturing of her artistic talent as a child, and accepted Diaz’s queerness as a teenager. Diaz leaned further into her art practice in adolescence and even had a brief stint as a tattoo artist.

The artist was sentenced to life in prison over drug possession and robbery connected to her opiate addiction in the mid-1990s, reportedly becoming eligible for parole by 2025 at the earliest.

Incarcerated as an out and proud queer and trans person in a Texas men’s prison, Diaz found refuge from the abuse and discrimination from other incarcerated people and correctional officers alike by diving headfirst into her art practice. Confined to the small pan of watercolors offered at the prison commissary and paintbrushes made from locks of hair, Diaz focused on delicately rendered, surreal figuration exemplifying queer love and beauty and sequential images that navigated themes of pain and suffering. Her storytelling centers queer universes with characters inspired by herself and the people in her life infused with crude humor and dry wit.

Diaz’s work finally came to light in 2013 when she connected with Gabriel Joffe, who volunteered at the time for the abolitionist organization Black and Pink, connecting LGBTQ+ civilians with incarcerated people as pen pals across the country. Diaz and Joffe developed a familial relationship over the decade through letters, paintings, and phone calls, also entwined by their own medical transitions at far different stages of life within the timeline of their connection. As her connection to the outside, Joffe helped Diaz gain attention for her artwork by building her a website and acting as her representative.

“I want people to feel good about [seeing my art],” Diaz told Joffe during a series of interviews in 2022. “Just to understand things. To feel love and understanding, just to feel some peace … I want them to know that we’re good people.”

“Being queer, I’ve had such a hard time with it from other people, because I know how they feel about us. Not everybody, but there’s still a lot of people that hate us,” Diaz continued. “I just want people to feel good, feel some happiness when they see my work.”

Diaz was sought out by New York dealer Daniel Cooney in 2022 and had her first solo exhibition at his namesake gallery that year while still behind bars. The attention on Diaz mounted, culminating in her first published comic book, Queer Angels and Devils, in 2023 — only further stimulating her need to showcase the beauty and humor of queerness on a grander scale.

In early 2024, Diaz suffered from a major stroke that impacted some of her faculties, though she is improving slowly. Diaz was released on parole on May 31 and is focused on reintegration and recovery simultaneously — though she’s most eager to return to large-scale oil painting on canvas, as Joffe mentioned to Hyperallergic.

A more intimate look at Joffe and Diaz’s relationship and her rise as an artist is available through Karla Murthy’s short film “Love, Jamie” (2023), which is now available to stream on PBS under the American Masters series.

15 Jamies paints and brushes Photo by Gabriel Joffe Courtesy of Greene Fort Productions LLC
Jamie Diaz’s watercolor palette and brushes — some of which were made from locks of human hair

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top