Graffiti as a criminal act
- The maximum penalty for 12 -to 17-year-olds is 24 months of detention
- Adults can be sentenced to up to ten years in prison
The experience of Graffiti artist G. Money
Served two years on bail, and was sentenced to two years in prison.
"None of the other inmates believed our sentences when we went inside. They thought I was talking shit when I said I'd got two years for graffiti"
“My flat was raided and they took my computer, phone, books, and CDs. I wasn't allowed to stay anywhere but my own address. I wasn't allowed to talk to friends that were involved in the case, or leave the country, or carry pens or paint on me."
“You're just painting with your pals [one minute], and all of a sudden you're an organized crime syndicate."
“I was even asked to paint a graffiti mural in the prison, the same thing I would've done on a train. There's no other crime that they'd make you do inside," adding that he believes these double standards are deeply engrained in societal attitudes towards graffiti: "For example, around the time we were sentenced, the Tate Modern flew in writers from around the world for a graffiti exhibition. These artists made their name doing the same thing we did—illegal graffiti."
Once he was released from prison, he struggled to adapt to life on the outside. "When you get out, it takes a long time to adjust, to get back into the world and out of the system, and to feel relaxed and to make amends in your personal life. Plus, when people know you've done time, they do treat you differently; people are wary of you."
Unfortunately, the disproportionate sentencing that G. Money and many other writers receive has glamorized prison for younger generations. "They think it's a badge of honor, they think to be a prolific graffiti writer you have to have done time. But you're supposed to be known for being prolific at what you do, not because the police have made you prolific."
“I was mixed with murderers, rapists and serial killers. How am I rubbing shoulders with a high-profile armed robber who's killed people when all I've done is graffiti?"
So what impact has hefty sentencing had on the graffiti community itself?
Noticeably, it's caused many talented graffiti artists including G.Money to stop their art.
"I personally, in my own experience, do think [graffiti] leads to antisocial behavior, other types of more serious crime and urban decay."- DC Saysell during a lecture at the Southbank centre. In G.Money’s case, it was spending a year in prison that really exposed him to crime, not painting some walls. I think DC Saysell has unfairly stereotyped all graffiti artists.
I was oblivious as to how severe sentences for graffiti can be. I think it’s shocking that someone can go to prison for such a harmless crime. Graffiti in my eyes is something individuals do for themselves as a form of self-expression, escapism and the illegal element does act to create an aspect of thrill. I found G. Money’s experience allowed me to see how damaging a prison sentence can be in terms of damaging their reputation and mental state. Before this research I didn’t think graffiti would get someone sent to jail, and I’m personally disgusted that it does, it just doesn’t seem fair. I decided to use some of these quotes within my project, specifically within a print idea, as I think the issue of graffiti as a criminal act is something that needs to be addressed in order to evoke a change within our society.
© Renata Passaris, all rights reserved