Flowers for Incarcerated Mothers

An art and garden project made in collaboration with artist jackie sumell and over two dozen mothers who are incarcerated, many of whom are serving life-sentences.

Artboard 1

September 16, 2022–July 8, 2023

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Historic Davenport Jail
70 Center Street
Davenport, California

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Flowers For Incarcerated Mothers is an art and garden project made in collaboration with artist jackie sumell and over two dozen mothers who are incarcerated–many of whom are serving life-sentences.

For the project, the incarcerated parents are introduced to the project through letters with images and descriptions of the healing qualities of flowers that can be grown on their behalf. The responses of the parents, and the meaningful reasons of why they chose a flower to be grown on their behalf, are shared with their permission as part of the installation.

Flowers For Incarcerated Mothers
aims to bring visibility and support to the nearly 150,000 incarcerated mothers in the United States. Over half (58%) of all people in U.S. women’s prisons have given birth, as have 80% of people in women’s jails, including many who are incarcerated awaiting trial simply because they can’t afford bail. Most of these parents, the majority of whom are incarcerated for non-violent offenses, are the primary caretakers of their children, meaning that punishing them with incarceration tears their children away from a vital source of support. And these numbers do not represent the many people who will give birth while locked up this year: An estimated 58,000 people every year are pregnant when they enter local jails or prisons. The flowers are grown as part of the movement for abolition. The gardens, as sumell puts it, help people “imagine a landscape without prisons.” This would be a world in which punishment is not considered a solution for social problems, one where gender is not used as a tool of state violence and where no parents are in cages.

Solitary Garden, an art and garden project made in collaboration with jackie sumell and Tim Young, currently incarcerated in San Quentin State Prison, is on view at UC Santa Cruz.

Flowers For Incarcerated Mothers and Solitary Garden are organized by Rachel Nelson and Gina Dent in partnership with the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History as part of Visualizing Abolition, a public scholarship initiative at UC Santa Cruz designed to shift the social attachment to prisons through art and education. Funding for Visualizing Abolition is provided by the Mellon Foundation.

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Header Image: Flowers for Incarcerated Mothers (installation view), photo by Daris Jasper @culturesaving.


Photo by Daris Jasper @culturesaving.

Photo by Daris Jasper @culturesaving.

Photo by Daris Jasper @culturesaving.

Photo by Daris Jasper @culturesaving.

Photo by Daris Jasper @culturesaving.

About the Artist:
jackie sumell is a multidisciplinary artist and abolitionist inspired most by the lives of everyday people. Her work has been successfully anchored at the intersection of activism, education, mindfulness practices and art for nearly two decades, and it has been exhibited extensively throughout the world. She has been the recipient of multiple residencies and fellowships including, but not limited to, a Source Fellowship, A Blade of Grass, Robert Rauschenberg Artist-as-Activist Fellowship, a Soros Justice Fellowship, an Eyebeam Fellowship, a Headlands Residency and a Schloss Solitude Residency Fellowship. sumell’s collaboration with Herman Wallace (a prisoner-of-consciousness and member of the Angola 3) was the subject of the Emmy Award-Winning documentary Herman’s House. sumell’s work with Herman has positioned her at the forefront of the national campaign to end solitary confinement and seek humane alternatives to incarceration.

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