That’s Institutionalized – Yellow Chrysanthemum on Angel Island


That’s Institutionalized is a blog series about inmates. The series showcases the anonymous writings of offenders in Virginia. The writings include narrative accounts of past lives, convictions, dreams, and future plans.

In the 1979 film Escape from Alcatraz, Frank Morris arrives at Alcatraz, aka The Rock, and immediately informed that no one would ever escape. The film displays a bleak, concrete reality defined by unadulterated dehumanization. The film’s sadistic warden explains that there is no form of rehabilitation to offer to a prisoner; that a prisoner’s life is represented to exist solely in the form of rigidly enforced discipline – that there is only life on The Rock. However, an inmate emerges to introduce a symbol of hope. In the film, the old inmate paints a self-portrait with a lively yellow chrysanthemum in this shirt pocket. The yellow chrysanthemum introduces a vibrant color contrasted against a backdrop of subdued shades. The flower comes to represent an unresistant optimism in the face of rigid restraint. As Doc’s spirit becomes broken, Frank Morris becomes empowered and plots a grand escape with inspiration from the little yellow chrysanthemum. In the end, Morris successfully escapes from Alcatraz. The warden searches for the inmates and finds the flower on an island outside the prison, where flowers could never grow. Ultimately, the flower becomes an undying and profound symbol of having a second chance at living.

Without soulful rehabilitation, how could any man muster the motivation to escape a prison of bad decisions to reach their island of redemption? Men can be transformed into obedient slaves of a system, however, that system cannot inhibit the buoyant soulfulness of man.

Make it Right

Below is an anonymous poem written by an inmate.

I have nothing to hide,
But, I am ashamed at a lot of things I’ve done in life.
I use to live in the dark searching for the light,
Stumbling over my depression;
Always praying to God waiting on his message.
As I got older, I’ve learned victory first starts with me
If I want to change my ways and be a better person in life,
I have to believe in myself.
Everyday day is a struggle and my life has purpose
Asking myself was it all worth it
Family never deserved the pain or stress, and I don’t feel apologizing is enough,
So I’m going to do my best.
Actions speak louder than words,
And I know I can’t get back the years and time I have wasted,
For all my dirt I’ve done there’s going to come a time where
I will have to face, but that’s in the afterlife;
While I’m still on earth I have time to make it right…


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