Sunday, 13 May 2012

One of my most recent acquisitions (thank you Conor) was a zine from Etsy called Cloud Factory (go buy it!), featuring artwork and prose from Oregon prison inmate Ryan Homsley. This is the description that comes alongside the first issue online, written by the zine's creator, Ryan's friend/penpal Laura Walker:
Ryan Homsley currently resides in county jail in Portland, Oregon, where he passes the time by drawing and writing. He is allowed one ballpoint pen every 30 days, two stamped envelopes a week, and plain white computer paper (if someone mails it to him). With these meager supplies, Ryan creates art and prose, sends to me, and I publish in zine format. 
This 60-page zine chronicles the genesis of our unlikely friendship, and explores themes of humanity and humility. In this first issue, we discuss our common interests of art, music and literature. Ryan's art and prose provide raw insight into addiction, homelessness, diabetes, and incarceration.

I actually received the second zine first (I bought both) and what bowled me over was the originality of Ryan's drawing style, like cartoonised cubist etchings. His work is interesting and has a dark tone to it, featuring people with frightened eyes and inmate numbers on their chests - however, he also features more caricature-like work and self portraits within the zine which are funny and honest. His writing is poetic, beautiful and strange, things which have obvious appeal, and are good enough for me to actually stop myself from immediately reading them - instead, I save some so I can appreciate them over time. Also fascinating are the small conversations (taken from their letters) which are incredibly honest on both sides of communication. 

The judicial system is a strange and flawed place, and Ryan's descriptions of it show a different side to the one that it's easy to pick up from the media. Jail might be a punishment, but personally I don't believe that depriving people of positive human contact is the right way to treat anybody, and it is definitely not going to help rehabilitate people into the world. There might be some people in jail who have done terrible things and aren't sorry for them, or even enjoyed them; these people are different from the majority in institutions and I believe most need help other than simple imprisonment. I think that a lot of the people in prison these days have been in difficult situations that they dealt with in the only way they thought they could, or saw no other option. 

Ryan also writes about drug use (specifically heroin), which is one issue I'm completely against the legal system on. I previously wasn't a massive fan of Russell Brand, but he's made some great points about this issue recently - the full segment of his testimony at the Drugs Inquiry is absolutely worth a watch. To me, drug use is a symptom, not the problem, and as Brand says drug addicts need compassion, rather than incarceration. I also do not believe that everyone who takes drugs has problems with them. I know quite a few people who use drugs occasionally, and have no issues whatsoever with addiction or impact on their health or daily life (apart from the odd comedown). Drugs are completely misunderstood: it makes me incredibly angry that some people judge 'drug' users (no matter whether addicts or completely functional members of society) despite using or having issues with legal drugs like nicotine or alcohol. I could go on forever about this issue, but I won't. Back to the zine!

Ryan has an incredibly similar taste in literature to me, and has read some great books. In fact, all of the proceeds from the zine sales go to buying him new books, which I think is such a great idea. How better to begin a positive start in jail than reading great books, and educating yourself further? I'm looking forward to getting more of the issues as time goes on. Once I've got some spare money, I think I'm going to send him a book from his Amazon wishlist.


  1. sounds and looks great. will def have a look. thanks for the tip!!

  2. I am in love with his drawing style, its so raw & organic! It reminds me a little of Ted Mckeever's scratchy style, which I love. Thanks for sharing this, I am definitely going to go look for more of his stuff!
    Totally agree with you on the prison & drugs issue too, it's all to easy to lump people into one general category, when each is different & had totally different reasons for choosing the same path.