Apr 13

"I made family": How Shaquan discovered the power of The Guild

by: Carly Rapaport-Stein

When we start the interview, Shaquan can’t hold back a giant grin that lights up every corner of his face. We’ve sat down to talk about his time in the Mural Arts Guild, and he’s eager to chat with me about his experiences with the Guild, and share everything that he’s learned over the past few months.

Last year, Shaquan faced a tough time. He was imprisoned for a few months, and while it was “good and bad,” it instilled in Shaquan a clear path: he did not want prison to be his life. Turning serious, he shares that not only did he not like having a prescribed daily routine, he felt that no one – whether they were a prisoner or a guard – wanted to be in that place.

“I’m a happy person – I love my daugher, I like having money to buy and do stuff. Everytime I think about doing something stupid, or I’m arguing with someone, I just think about being back behind in jail and things could be a lot worse – it’s not worth it.”

Coming out of the system, his parole officer suggested that Shaquan might enjoy working with the Guild. Shaquan was skeptical – he’d never painted, or had much of an interest in art. But he gave it a try. And now he’s so happy that he did.

“Once I had the interview with Will and Dawan, I was like – I don’t think I can do it! Painting and murals is not me. But after a while, it was like, wow, I like this. Two weeks ago, I actually went to go thank my P.O. for putting me in this program. I really appreciate it, I met a lot of people and built bonds with so many people, and I really appreciate it. My P.O. was shocked – he said I was the first person who ever told him thank you! I’m dedicated now. I wake up every morning at 7 a.m. – even on Saturday and Sunday.”

Photo by Steve Weinik.

This dedication has spilled over into everything Shaquan does. Painting with Mural Arts has given him ideas for his own business, a commercial painting business that employs young men and women who have a criminal record, and are having trouble finding jobs of their own. His job with Mural Arts has given him such a feeling of self-worth that he wants to pass that opportunity forward – to let young people make something of themselves, and to give the next generation of young people, his daughter included, every chance to go to college or to take another positive career path.

Shaquan knows that owning his own business is going to take a long time, but that’s OK with him. He notes that painting with the Guild is so peaceful, it’s given him a new outlook on life, teaching him patience, leadership, and even wisdom. It’s helped him dream big, and even if it’s a few years down the road, he easily imagines a future where he can be his own boss and go to his own office dressed in a suit and tie.

And he radiates happiness about his time in the Guild. As we wrap up our conversation, Shaquan names the things that have been so positive. He’s loved learning to paint, having discovered the power of his own vibrant art to make people smile, laugh, and feel joy. He’s loved the routine of a job, and the respect that having a job brings. He’s loved how proud his mother is of all of the constructive things Shaquan is now doing in the world. And he’s loved meeting the network of people that make up the Guild, mentioning everyone from the people who run the program to the people who participate. When I ask if he’s got new friends now, Shaquan considers for a moment.

“No… I didn’t make friends. I made family.”

Photo by Steve Weinik.

You can see Shaquan’s work and the work of the Guild members at the annual Restorative Justice art exhibition, Shifting Perspective. Join us for the opening reception on April 14, or see the show at the Commonwealth Gallery throughout April.

Last updated: Oct 21, 2021

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