What You Draw When You're in Prison for Murder

Brogan Rafferty, a subject of Hanna Rosin's September magazine story, is serving a life sentence. Here's what he's been doing in his cell.

1-jester1.jpgJester (July 11, 2012)

This was from a period of about two months when I was alone in the county jail. So much pain went into this that I can gaze upon it today, over a year later, and it can still draw suffering. I look like a clown to represent how I "laugh" on the outside and "cry" on the inside. Minus the makeup, that's pretty much how I looked. My hair was long because I couldn't get a haircut in jail, so I slicked it back, and I had a face full of whiskers because they wouldn't let me shave (my neck itched!).

While in jail, I threw myself into my Bible reading. I read the entire Bible cover to cover in the first six months I was locked up. (And I'm here to say it is by far the best, most beneficial book you will ever read.) The Celtic crucifix is a very powerful image to me. My father wears one around his neck, always has. It was probably the first thing I ever saw associated with God. Together in the picture, these two things [the Bible and the cross] symbolize that despite my efforts to bring God into my life, my past experiences haunt me so much that I throw my hands up, turning my face to the heavens, screaming in anguish.

The bottle of whiskey and the shot glass on the window ledge represent my alcoholism, the only release (however superficial and temporary) that has even come close to helping me through this. (God got me through it alive, but that doesn't make it any easier.) I'll have been locked up for two years this November. Had I been able to drink as I pleased this entire time, I'd be dead. I have the superhuman urge--even now--to step into a bar and drink until I drop dead off the barstool. I want it more than anything, and I have no idea why. It's almost a sort of instinct that I can't fight, like how an alley cat goes off behind a dumpster to die after it gets hit by a car. Some might say I'm morbid for thinking this way, but I believe that just as we accept our lives without complaint, so too must we accept our own deaths. (Job 2:10)

2-cross.jpgCrucifixion (July 28, 2012)

I got this idea, oddly enough, from watching Silence of the Lambs. The basic concept of this is that I was being "crucified" by the very tools that were supposed to protect me (the legal system, the courts, "justice," all represented by the American flag, Constitution, and Bill of Rights, which are being used to burn me at the stake).

And all of it is happening in the "spotlight," as a spectacle for the public. They even slapped the Hannibal Lecter mask on me to make me look like a monster. I hold in my hand another Celtic crucifix as I quietly endure. (I was going to put a Bible in the other hand, but I didn't want to give the impression that I was some saint, or thought myself a righteous holy man.)

3-cell.jpgIllumination (September 6, 2012)

This was an idea I had when I was still in the juvenile detention center: the Bible illuminating not me but some inmate in the solitary-confinement cells in prison--the darkest, loneliest places on Earth, the pit at the bottom of the world. (I've since been there, and it's every bit as bad as I imagined.) On the walls, the bars cast shadows that become Christ being crucified.

4-plants.jpgWeeds (September 7, 2012)

Outside of my cell in the Summit County jail, there was no view except of another wall--no sky, nothing. It was six months before I saw the sky, eight months before I breathed fresh air.

When I finally saw the sky, I was astounded at how big it was--how is it we don't fall off of the face of the Earth? When I finally tasted fresh air--after my sentencing, there were so many reporters, they took me out a side door and into the street where a van was waiting--it was the greatest high I've ever felt. My legs became weak and the deputies had to hold me up, my head was dizzy, my eyes teared up a little. It was the greatest feeling I've ever had.

Eventually I was moved to a cell with the same view, but with overgrown weeds outside. They became the epitome of beauty to me. They were "my weeds." Had someone gone out and cut them, I'd have had a mental breakdown. Later on they moved us to cells (with the same nonexistent view) in another cell block, but I was confident because I knew "my weeds" were still there where we had left them.

6-body.jpgBars (September 12, 2012)

Picasso had one "Blue Period," in which everything he painted was blue, sad, depressing. I had several of these. This picture was from one of those.

I was a month away from trial, very depressed, with nothing to do but wait to "die" (stand trial). I was ... complicated. I had no idea what I would do with myself if I didn't get out--and no idea what I'd do with myself if I did. I knew I'd never be the same, and as it turns out, I wasn't. I had bars on my soul. There was no going back to freedom, and there never will be.

7-rope.jpgLady Justice (September 16, 2012)

Another blue picture. The woman is "Lady Justice," peeking from behind her blindfold. She is spinning a yo-yo. The yo-yo is a prison whose bars are red, white, and blue, symbolizing American justice, etc., and I am trapped inside. Lady Justice, who cheats by peeking under her blindfold, is playing games with me--games which have my free life at stake--and as you can see, she finds it amusing.

8-salvation.jpg40 Days (September 24, 2012)

First off, I'd like to reflect that my hair actually looked like that when I drew this, basically like Jack Nicholson's in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. This was right before the trial, and I was a small mess preparing for it. The staff at the jail thought I was crazy.

Anyway, at that time I had a revelation. Chaplain Bill W., my chaplain at the jail, had loaned me a book called The Purpose Driven Life. It outlines a 40-day spiritual reading program. Coincidentally, I looked at the calendar, and the same day Chaplain Bill gave me that book I had exactly 40 days left until trial. That told me something. It told me that, as my Uncle Ed put it, God didn't bring me out of the ocean just to drop me in a lake. (I realize now that while I did end up in prison anyway, the moral of the story is, as my father says, that God won't give us Raffertys more than we can handle.)

This picture depicts me, exhausted from a long, hard road, yet grateful to God for extinguishing the hellfire that tried to overtake me.