Prisoners’ Inventions: Letters and Notes on Sending Messages by Angelo

Temporary Services

In 2001, Temporary Services invited our friend Angelo, a prisoner in California, to write about and draw the different things he had seen other prisoners invent. Temporary Services is a group consisting of members Brett Bloom, Marc Fischer, and—at the time of this project’s beginnings—Salem Collo-Julin. Angelo illustrated everything from immersion heaters with electrical plugs made from razor blades, paper clips, and popsicle sticks, to cooking methods for bologna jerky on built-in cell light fixtures. These drawings and writings became the book and widely exhibited project Prisoners’ Inventions, first published in 2003 by WhiteWalls.

As a component of exhibitions of the project, we also included a life-size recreation of Angelo’s prison cell. The cell’s construction was made possible by Angelo’s detailed blueprint drawings. The entire collaboration with Angelo took place through the US mail system and many letters were sent back and forth. We did not ask for or receive permission from the prison authorities to carry out this collaboration.

For our working process, Marc would relay the concerns of the group in letters to Angelo and Angelo would respond—often multiple times just a few days apart. We’ve decided to share excerpts from a few of these letters from Angelo with the hope that they give a sense of the person he was and the creativity he brought to our collaboration. They provide a small amount of the texture and feel of daily life that Angelo experienced while incarcerated. In reflecting on the theme of this publication, it should be noted that Angelo once worked for the US Postal Service. He was particularly attuned to the workings (and failings) of the postal system, as well as the irregularities of the prison mailroom. The first two of these three letters were sent shortly after the attacks on September 11, 2001 and take those events into consideration.

“A Fishing Tale”—presented here in its original handwritten form as sent to us by Angelo—was later included in the book Prisoners’ Inventions. Elsewhere in the book, there are other drawings of a man (who is certainly Angelo) rearranging his bed to write and draw. Angelo died in late 2016 at the age of 73. In early 2021, we reprinted Prisoners’ Inventions in a new, expanded version through our own imprint Half Letter Press. 

Temporary Services, October 2021

Photo of Angelo’s recreated prison cell at MASS MoCA by Kevin Kennefick

Sunday, September 30, 2001

Dear Marc,

How’s everything? Well I hope? With no T.V., radio, papers, etc., I’m getting very little news here, but I can just imagine the madness that the other madness must have spawned. For myself life goes on much the same. The air conditioning had been behaving itself for weeks now, but then today it decided to act up again. Not super hot in the cell but definitely uncomfortable.

So I’m enclosing some of the pages for the technology project for your comments or approval. Though I’ve been trying to keep the illustration and text separate, as you can see it’s somewhat of a losing proposition if only to put some of the stuff in context. Anyway, this is just the first batch (20-pages) and hopefully I’ll get the rest off to you in the next day or two. It’s hard to guess how many pages there will be total but I am sure there will be over 40. So do let me know what you think of it all when you can.

Wednesday, October 3, 2001

Dear Marc,

How’s it going? Well it’s cooling down outside a bit now, so needless to say the cell’s air conditioning’s working much better now.

Well as you can see, I’ve been busy at the technology project information. In fact much busier than I thought, as each time I think I’ve got all the details covered, I’ll suddenly remember something else. So as a result I think you’ll definitely have enough material for a 40 pager or more, so Bon editing (I don’t know the French for “editing”). Anyhow I’m still working at new pages at this writing so at the moment I can’t say exactly how many pages I’ll be sending with this letter tonight but the count stands at 21 pages now, so my guess is that it will be over 30 on this batch, and of course there’s the 20 I sent you a few days ago. So now I just hope that the postal system’s not too fucked up by all the lunatic business in the news, that you’ll get all within a reasonable length of time to do what you have to do with it. Oh and I should mention that the line down the center of each page is in pencil so it can be erased if necessary for neatness. I needed it though to clarify the space for each 5 1/2 X 8 1/2” page. Also if you don’t want to rewrite the bulk texts behind me, need I suggest white out (liquid paper) to correct my spellings and such (a little dab here and there on some of the illustrations would help too).

So I’m going to close out here, although it’s still early in the day, as I want to try and get as many more pages as I can done to include in this mailing. And as to how many more pages that will be, I’m afraid I can’t even guess at it now, as the memories just keep coming now.

Sunday, July 21, 2002

Dear Marc,

How goes it? Actually I just got your letter Friday, so need I ask? “Busy” hardly covers it, ea? But as usual, I’m running late tonight so let me cut to the important stuff first. Although you probably already got my letter by now (mailed it and some more technology pages (30) and preliminaries (17) on 6/27), yes I did receive that mailing of around 5/4 which arrived here on 6/12. Needless to say the mail service has gone to hell here, hasn’t it?

Then on the matter of the Hyde Park technology show, my head’s in too many other places at the moment, so I didn’t have the concentration now to really make for constructive input, but reading over your ideas again, I like the idea of a raised platform, but I also think actual in-cell experience would be good too. So possibly two mock ups? Now the reason, incidentally, I suggest a walk in mock up, is the possible emotional impact. Of course doing a mock up though, the effect might not be all that much, maybe more like a theme park visit, but I was rather intrigued to hear several years ago, that as part of the C.D.C.’s training program, the rookies are locked in cells for a short period of time [so] that they gain some sense of prison life from an inmate’s point of view. So it was that thought that motivated my suggesting a possible mock up. I just hope though that if you do decide to go with idea, that it won’t be too costly a project. It’s not the dimensions of the cell itself that will be the pain to make but the furnishings in it. But like I said, let me think some more on it, and if anything good comes out, I’ll definitely let you know. In the meantime though, I’m cleaning up (making more readable) my cell measurements, of which I’m sending three pages tonight, and hopefully the rest tomorrow so you can at least get some idea of the job at hand. I would have likely had them all tone today incidentally, but when I sat down to work on them early this morning, I suddenly had another technology info idea so paused to put it to paper first, and then it was followed by another and then another, so I wound up doing eight new pages of technology instead (a pleasant day indeed).