Charles Listo Vera, prison ID #A1-61401, is serving 19 years for attempted manslaughter. One of his pastimes is drawing portraits, some of which his family sells on eBay. His latest portrait, though, was done for nothing: it’s a pencil drawing of a man Vera thinks deserves to be in prison more than he does. A man whose actions Vera feels help support child slavery and infanticide: Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, chairman of Nestlé.
Vera did this portrait for Captured, a project overseen by Jeff Greenspan (formerly BuzzFeed‘s chief creative officer) and Andrew Tider, which pairs incarcerated artists with corporate executives of their choosing who, Greenspan and Tider feel, should be in prison, but aren’t. The project has resulted in over 28 portraits of business leaders at Coca-Cola, FIFA, Goldman Sachs, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Walmart, and more, all drawn by talented prisoners spread across the country.
According to Tider, the idea for Captured came after the pair binged on environmental documentaries. “We were seeing all of these egregious acts perpetrated by major corporations, with nobody going to prison as a result. It struck us that any ordinary person would certainly be jailed for the things these corporations do,” Tider says. They wondered what prison inmates would think. Eventually, this idea distilled itself into Captured: people in prison drawing people who should be.
Finding prison artists to contribute to Captured turned out to be surprisingly tricky, though. At first, Tider and Greenspan approached prison wardens and individuals who ran prison art programs. It turned out to be a dead end, so Greenspan started reaching out to prison artists who were selling their drawings on eBay, through their families. Eventually, Tider says, the project went “viral” within the U.S. prison system, as inmates who were participating spread news of the project through word of mouth.
The resulting portraits run the gamut from the precocious to the garishly inept, the almost loving to the nightmarishly succulent. All together, the finished portraits have been anthologized as part of a limited edition art book, currently on sale for $40, with Greenspan and Tider planning to donate all profits toward efforts to elect Bernie Sanders as president (although all of it won’t go directly to the Sanders campaign).
More broadly, Tider is hoping that Captured will encourage more consumers to stop supporting unethical businesses. The next time you buy a Nestlé bar, Tider hopes you’ll think about Charles Listo Vera, rotting in prison, and Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, walking around free, despite evidence in 2001 that its cocoa may have been produced by hundreds of thousands of child slaves. “By not supporting companies endangering our health and freedom, and by questioning a system that wields punishment so unevenly,” Tider says, “we can stop being mute witnesses.”