Oral Histories

Interview of Guillermo Bermudez

Painter and actor, member of the Advisory Board of the Poetic Justice Project and part of the Arts-in-Corrections program during incarceration.
Arts in Corrections: Interviews with Participants in California Department of Corrections' Institutional Arts Program
UCLA and University of California History
Community History
UCLA History: Events and Projects
Biographical Note:
Painter and actor, member of the Advisory Board of the Poetic Justice Project and part of the Arts-in-Corrections program during incarceration.
Aoki, Kyoko
Bermudez, Guillermo
Persons Present:
Bermudez and Aoki.
Place Conducted:
Bermudez's home in the Central Coast of California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Kyoko Aoki; MLIS, UCLA.
Processing of Interview:
The interviewer prepared a timed log of the audio recording of the interview. Bermudez was given the opportunity to review the log in order to supply missing or misspelled names and to verify the accuracy of the content but made no changes.
3.5 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Series Statement:
The interviews in the series Arts in Corrections: Interviews with Participants in California Department of Corrections' Institutional Arts Program document the stories of formerly incarcerated artists, professional artists, and administrators who participated in the Arts-in-Corrections program. Arts-in-Corrections was a California Department of Corrections program that placed professional artists in correctional institutions across the state to provide incarcerated men and women instruction in a variety of artistic media, including the visual arts, theater, musical performance, creative writing, and poetry. The program spanned three decades from 1979 to 2010. The oral history interviews were conducted as part of the interviewer's master's thesis research and then donated to the Center for Oral History Research. Archival materials related to the Arts-in-Corrections program are available at the UCLA University Archives and the UCLA Ethnomusicology Archive.
Born in Needles, California, and spends his early years in the mining town of Chubbuck—Family moves to Tecate, Baja California—Father loses arm and breaks leg while digging wells—Family moves back to U.S.—Parents’ background—Lives in the projects in San Bernardino—Dad gets a job as a custodian and goes to night school to learn English—Sense of isolation after moving to Colton, California—A good boy growing up: studious, goes to church three times a week—Begins hanging out and doing drugs with older guys—At the age of 18 begins going to the county jail every few weeks—Arrested for being under the influence of drugs in 1970—Found guilty of battery on an officer—Reflections on how he learned to do what his parents wanted and was not allowed to make mistakes or make his own choices—Sentenced to Youth Authority on the advice of a public defender in order to attempt to bypass prison—Parents visit Youth Training School on weekends—Brothers’ personalities and histories—Involved in “gang fight” between Blacks and Mexicans and ends up in isolation—Transferred from Youth Authority to Deuel Vocational Institute in Tracy, California—Begins associating with Youth Authority guys who are in prison gangs, a change from the Youth Training School, where the Mexicans were united—Becomes involved with individuals involved in prison gangs—Is involved in the stabbing of another inmate—After another incident is placed in the “hole” and charged with assault with a deadly weapon—Ends up at San Quentin—Making artwork while spending a lot of time in the “hole” –Doing drawing as a child—Stops drawing because of a high school drafting teacher who makes a homophobic comment—Introduced to tattoo design and church comic books—Attends an art class through a Youth Authority college program once a week—Starts copying images in the hole in Tracy and at San Quentin—Begins drawing again using his bunk as a desk—Gathers drawing materials from magazines—Using paint chips from prison bars to add color to drawings and other methods of making materials—Moves away from photorealism; begins to draw from imagination—Begins to question involvement with the gang—Sent to Vacaville, away from gang-related friends; begins to detoxify—Back in San Quentin in 1984 learns about Arts in Corrections (AIC)—Returns to general population and joins AIC drawing and painting classes with Jeff Hessemeyer—Avoids disruptions while drawing by asking neighboring prisoners to leave him alone until nighttime—Takes a class with a contract artist, Richard Herman, and is exposed to new art and artists—Learns acrylic painting from Daniel Samborski at Folsom—Enters a painting in the 1991 William James Association competition and gets an honorable mention—Goes to California Men’s Colony (CMC) East where there is no AIC—Receives paints via mail order in a hobby package from dad—Receives approval to attend a drawing class—Takes classes in poetry and abstract painting from Deborah Tobola and Jack Artusio—AIC cuts budget— Tobola goes from AIC to the Education Department;--Bermudez donates paintings to Literacy Council, Homeboy Industries, and others—Invited to help teach painting to inmates with mental disabilities at CMC East—Goes to the hole; gets back into drawing—Family determines to find legal assistance to free Bermudez—Paroled in 2008.
The technicalities of parole--Bermudez's 12/9/2008 hearing--Goes home on 12/18/2008—Learns to use Google--Finds and contacts Tobola, who has started a program to help reintegrate artists into society after prison--Performs in plays with Poetic Justice Project—Auditions and performs in “Blue Train” in San Luis Obispo—Tabola writes “Off The Hook”-- Pius Savage plays a role in one of the plays; acts in other plays—Performs “Of Mice and Men” at the 30th Annual Steinbeck Festival at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, CA—All actors in the Poetic Justice Project have experienced incarceration but have rehabilitated and transformed--Describes how Poetic Justice Project has helped some of the men in recovery—Invited to Salinas to open for a presentation by author Luis Rodriguez—Poetic Justice Project puts together a women’s play, “Women Behind the Walls,” written by a former AIC facilitator at Chowchilla—Carol Newborg puts together a panel at Alcatraz with former prisoners speaking about their experiences in prison—Sits as Board of Directors of Poetic Justice Project--His current focus on doing his own art—Describes “talk backs” with audience where the audience and actors and actresses have a discussion after a performance about art and the importance of having a forum for expression—Describes art as a transformative process that moves people beyond differences--AIC provided context to interact and relate with each other as artists—Describes art as little art and life as big Art.