“Did you hear about the rose that grew from a crack in the concrete? Proving nature’s laws wrong….. Long live the rose that grew from concrete when no one else even cared.”
~Tupac Shakur The Rose that Grew from Concrete
*I wasn’t really planning to make this story into a post but a friend of mine who is a chaplain in Little Rock, Arkansas asked me to write it for her. She is opening up a home for women who have experienced abuse, addictions and incarceration and she thought she might want to use this story in some way. And I realized just how much it has to do with the miraculous healing power of Art.
Jody Armijo came into my life about 7 years ago when I moved into a very small Hispanic community in northern New Mexico.
He came to my gate, wanting to visit and I didn’t let him in. I had heard that he had been in prison though I didn’t know for what and I was afraid of him. He was wearing a do-rag, had a lot of tattoos and was pretty rough looking. Very different from the men I had grown up around who were usually blond, light skinned and clean cut. I called my neighbor as soon as he left and told him I was scared.
A year later Jody came to work at my place as part of a small construction crew that my neighbor had put together. I no longer felt afraid but I had a very difficult time communicating with him. He was extremely shy and when I tried to talk to him, he usually walked away. Later I realized that besides being very shy, there was a language barrier: his first language is Spanish, I don’t speak Spanish and he probably didn’t know what I was talking about a lot of the time.
But he started bringing me some art that he had done and that was how we first began to communicate. What he brought originally was the beautiful handkerchief art called Panos usually made by Hispanic inmates.
I saw that he had talent but no money to buy art supplies so I started buying him some colored markers and paints. And in appreciation, he began making things for me: handkerchiefs,
tv tables painted with crosses and roses, and a large painted piece of the Virgin of Guadalupe to go over my bed.
It was probably another year before he talked about prison-I think he felt ashamed and didn’t know how I would react. Maybe he thought I wouldn’t want anymore to do with him.
He had been in prison twice, once in Colorado-5 years for dealing drugs and once in New Mexico for 18 months. He’s never wanted to talk about why he was sent back the second time. I think it was for fighting-I think he beat someone up pretty badly but I never pushed him to share any more than he wanted to.
He told me that every time he got out of prison or jail, he went back to ‘the same playground’ and so the cycle continued. Then one night he got stabbed pretty badly and almost died and it was then that he made a decision to change his life. He came back to the small rural community where he was born and he went back to living close to the land as he had been taught by his grandparents.
His feeling was just to stay out of trouble, work as a carpenter but only within the community and to make enough money to buy beer and cigarettes. He didn’t hope for or ask for anything more.
But he became a caretaker for my place and I kept buying him art supplies and his art evolved in a way like I have never seen before. He went from the handkerchiefs to woodcarving,
to making tables and doors and gates he did some beautiful stonework and eventually he started making handmade, hand painted altars for people.
And as people began to praise his work and he began to sell things, his self-esteem grew and grew. He had once referred to himself as a gofer and now he was an artist.
He had some pieces in local art exhibits, shops and church gift shops and his pieces sold.
He is not a saint. He still deals with anger that comes from a very abusive childhood but while he once seemed unable to control it, he is now able, most of the time to see it and stop it from over powering him. As he puts it “I watch myself a lot better now.”
He will probably always drink a fair amount of beer though it is much less than what it was when I met him, when alcohol was his only companion. He has extreme PTSD that started in childhood and then got much worse in prison. He takes natural medication for this and knows what his limitations are…mostly that he cannot go into the city and be around a lot of people because he becomes very nervous, fearful and then angry.
But I believe that he will continue to grow and change because he has found his path. He has gone from someone who was once kicked out of 2 New Mexico towns for fighting and who along with his cousins, was known as a monstruo [monster] to a kind and gentle man
who wants to give back and to help in whatever way he can. More and more I see him as the softhearted little boy that he was, before his violent and abusive father demanded that he become a fighter.
When I asked him recently, to give me a statement for an art exhibit he was participating in, he wrote:
“I WANT TO GIVE BACK AND TO THANK THE CREATOR FOR MY ART THAT TAKES ME TO THE SECRET PLACE OF LIFE.”
*Jody’s altars are now available at our new etsy store, LA CASA DE ROSAS