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The Last Prisoner Project: Creating Art To Cope With Cannabis Prohibition

Michael Pelletier and Mohan Sundaresan are using art to cope with the trauma of prohibition.

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The Last Prisoner Project: Creating Art To Cope With Cannabis Prohibition
Mohan Sundaresan

California Artist Mohan Sundaresan said cannabis has given him a newfound freedom with his art, and it pains him to think of anyone sitting in prison for a plant that brings so much good to so many.

“I love being in the unknown,” he surmised. “In the unknown I can’t be anything else but me. I don’t use cannabis for recreation or medicine, it helps me recreate my thoughts. I just let go and whatever turns up is what’s meant to happen.”

Cannabis also replaced alcohol for the artist. 

“I had been drinking alcohol since I was 17,” he shared. “I stopped overnight in 2015. I used to paint on canvases, but no one wanted them. One night after drinking a lot, I cut up two of my best works in disgust and threw them into the garbage. The next day I looked at the strips of canvas and started weaving them together. When I turned it over I almost had a heart attack.”

Sundaresan’s friend, Professor Mandel at the University of San Diego, said the new work was the closest thing he’d seen to Einstein’s Theory of Random Order.

“After that I started weaving all my paintings,” he continued. “I said to myself, I don’t need to drink any more. From that moment forward, I integrated cannabis into my art.”

His colorful, twisted cannabis leaves are something to behold. But, recently, he created an aluminum piece in a series, specifically meant to donate to the newly established campaign to free cannabis prisoners in the U.S., The Last Prisoner Project.

Sundaresan can’t discuss the prisoners without being overcome with emotion. His donated piece depicts a cannabis leaf entangled in woven bars.

“We have to let them out,” he struggles to speak through tears. “There are bigger criminals running free, while innocent people – who have done no harm to anyone, are sitting in prison for this plant that now being accepted by so many. When I walk in the evening near my home – and I pass a retirement home, where three elderly people in their 80s are on their way back inside, and one says, ‘Let’s have another drag before we go back in.’ And then I think of people sitting in prison for that same drag. Where’s the justice?”

“Winter” by Michael Pelletier

Serving Time for a Plant

63-year-old Michael Pelletier was 11 years-old when a farming accident on his family’s potato farm in Maine caused him to lose the use of his legs. When he was 15 he began to smoke cannabis, stating that it helped him cope with his new life of a T-7 Paraplegic, specifically with bladder spasms, replacing Oxybutynin.

“Marijuana became my friend, and helped me cope with depression, spasms, and kept me motivated,” he shared. “My family didn’t know what society finally knows now – that at such a young age, I was right about cannabis. Today, I feel respect from my family that I had before my time with cannabis. It has medical uses and it helped me cope with my situation.” 

He began bringing small amounts of cannabis down from Canada for his own use, stating the quality was better. When friends wanted to share his medicine, he began bringing larger amounts down. Though the exact amounts he trafficked into Maine are still in question, prosecutors and “snitches” inflated everything, with Pelletier ending up with a life sentence.

Pelletier began painting in prison, with two of his paintings being auctioned off alongside Sundaresan’s piece for the Austin fundraiser, benefiting the Last Prisoner Project.

“A life sentence is worse than a death sentence,” Pelletier said from prison. “A death sentence you die once – a life sentence, you die a little every day!”

The Mission Statement of The Last Prisoner Project is poignant and to the point, “Imagine sitting in a cell for years, decades, or even for life, convicted of an activity that is no longer a crime, while thousands of other people build intergenerational wealth doing exactly the same thing.”

Art donated by Mohan Sundaresan for an auction for The Last Prisoner Project

While more than 40,000 cannabis prisoners face that very bleak situation, the Last Prisoner Project is dedicated to fighting the “fundamental injustice inflicted upon those who have suffered criminal convictions and the consequences of those convictions.” 

“Through intervention, advocacy, and awareness campaigns, the Last Prisoner Project will work to redress the past and continuing harms of these unjust lass and policies.” 

While Sundaresan enjoys his freedom, creating art while partaking freely of the herb, his comrades suffering is not lost on him.

“Those prison bars can bend,” he waxed poetic. “We need to release them. We need to free the plant and its people. The truth must be told. If we can use art to do that, then we must do everything we can until it’s done.”

A private fundraiser is being held September 19, in Austin, Texas, for the Last Prisoner Project.

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