FROM INMATE TO ARTIST
WITHOUT ART, LIFE WOULD BE DEAD.
It was October 8, 2005. Everything was darkness, a blur. Carmen’s mind shut down.
He had just arrived at the jail, the Massachusetts House Of Corrections (MHOC) in Middleton, Massachusetts, an inmate, falsely accused. He wasn’t perfect, but he was a good guy. Now he was in jail, and what he was about to face filled him with dread.
From the start, he stayed awake all night and slept all day. He recoiled from the sounds of the clanking metal doors opening and closing. Of all the cells where he could have been in that place, Carmen's had a small beam of light shining all night from the corridor outside. He grabbed onto that ray of light and retreated to the thing that had given him comfort in the past: drawing.
Carmen had an interest in art from an early age. Bullied as a child, he found his escape in drawing, comics mostly. He studied commercial art in vocational ed but after high school, it was the military for him, the 101st Airborne Division in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Drawing faded to a memory. Then, seven years of marriage spiraled downward. A painful divorce and spiteful ex-wife sucked the life out of him. Art was the last thing on his mind. Drawing got lost. Life got lost.
His first drawing in jail was Vida Guerra, his cellmate, Kevin’s, dream girl. Carmen worked on it all night from a photo that Kevin had received with a letter. In the morning, Kevin was excited about his gift and showed it to other inmates. News of the artwork spread like a wildfire throughout the block, and soon, Carmen had a stack of commission work to do. “Verdi” had become MHOC bed 60’s portrait artist.
He sketched portraits on the back of intake forms, charging $5.00. In food. “I would get bagged tuna, cookies, rice, ramen noodles, pepperoni, coffee… whatever food an inmate could get to pay for his drawing.”
Time began moving swiftly. October to November, December, and then January 2006, a new year. Ninety-one dark days later on January 6, 2006, Carmen J. Verdi, Jr. was found innocent of the false accusations against him and released from jail.
Disoriented and confused but happy to be free, his then-wife of two years settled in Nashua, NH where they still live today. A vindictive ex-wife was hell-bent on continuing to cause as much pain for him as possible. His two sons were taught to hate him. No matter how he tried to be a part of their lives, the only role he got to play was the one paying child support. Life wasn’t going to be an easy one, but they were determined to rely on their faith and persevere.
Carmen started a business and worked long hours every day. He made it through start-up pains, growing pains, a terrible recession, and, finally, the light at the end of the recovery tunnel. He dreamed of his sons knowing how much he loves them. He had to follow their lives through their Facebook pages. And, he drew.
Through it all, the pull of the pencil and sketch pad remained strong. He returned home from work each day to draw until the wee hours before going back to work the next day. At the time, he had no expectations of becoming a professional artist. Drawing had become therapy, his medication, his refuge. He hid the names of his children in the artworks he drew. It made him feel close to them. Maybe they would see it in the future and know that he was always thinking about them.
One day, Carmen was doing a job in the home of an artist/art collector. They struck up a conversation about his art and she asked him to bring by some examples. When he did, she was amazed, especially when she found that he was drawing all his pieces—even the very detailed and complex drawings he had started at that time—with free-hand straight lines. “Carmen, you need to get serious about this, to show and sell your work,” she said. “You have to start pursuing this as a career.”
Carmen couldn’t stop thinking about that. He talked to his wife, and they agreed to try it. It wouldn’t be easy. The art world can be a tough place, but he couldn’t really remember a time that hadn’t been “tough.”
He had no real formal training, but he longed to know more. He asked every artist he could find who might answer his questions. Some were kind and helpful. From their feedback, he grew, and his work improved. Art became an addiction. The more he created, the more he exhibited his work, the more people loved it, the more he needed to do it. It became an obsession.
During His 91 day stay at MHOC, He experienced grace in a ray of light that would change His life. Seventeen years later, that experience remains a blessing that continues to change his life every day. His integrity is still intact; the client who first encouraged him became a fan, and today, her family proudly displays two of his originals among their collection.
And yes, he still hides the names of his sons in his art.
"Carmen's unique style is breathtaking. I love the drawing that he did for me as well as the one that I bought for a friend. A true Artist!"
- Laura T.