Philly artist teams up with wine company to advocate for prison reform

A formerly incarcerated Germantown artist has found an unusual partner to help bring to light issues of the criminal justice system: a wine company. 

The Prisoner, which is based in Napa Valley, announced this month that it will feature Jesse Krimes’ artwork on bottles of its Reserve Red Blend that is part of the wine maker’s limited-edition Corrections series, which aims to use art and wine to advocate for prison reform. A percentage of the sales will be donated to the Center for Art & Advocacy, an organization founded by Krimes that helps artists directly impacted by incarceration.

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Krimes entered the criminal justice system at age 13 and most recently spent 70 months in federal prison on a drug charge. Krimes said he began selling drugs because he grew up in poverty in Philadelphia and was looking to live “with some bit of dignity.”

With his work, Krimes tries to show the reality of the prison system and the stories of those who are incarcerated. 

“A lot of people will say that the prison system is broken; I actually don’t think it is broken,” he said. “I think it is doing the exact thing that it was set out and designed to do, which is basically destroy and punish and traumatize people. I think that is the core function of our carceral system.”

Sensationalized stories of incarceration in movies, television and in the news, Krimes said, mischaracterize people in prison as criminal masterminds. 

“Everyone in prison is just a normal human being. They’re a person, and the reason why it’s very important to support formerly incarcerated artists is because they are able to tell a different narrative,” Krimes said. “They’re able to make artwork, movies, films, writing, that engage with audiences that tell a very human story and not over-sensationalized entertainment that we often encounter.”

022224 Jesse KrimesCourtesy/The Prisoner

Krimes, a Germantown artist, at work in his studio.

The label on the Corrections wine bottle is an adaptation of Krimes’ piece “Apokaluptein: 16389067,” named after the Greek word for apocalypse and his Federal Bureau of Prisons identification number. Krimes originally crafted the 40-by-15-foot artwork out of 39 bedsheets while he was incarcerated. He worked with designers to translate that into a label, which included printing it on linen paper stock to mimic the texture of the sheets. 

Much of Krimes’ messaging as an artist and nonprofit founder is about dismantling stereotypes around incarceration. So far, he’s mainly done that through art in galleries and museums, and he’s excited to reach a new audience with the wine label.

“This collaboration just felt like such an incredible opportunity to put artwork on a bottle and really have it so beautifully done,” Krimes said. “It really is a way of galvanizing smart conversations and a way to reach audiences that wouldn’t typically go to a museum or a gallery all over the country.”

The Corrections wine is available now for $150 per bottle online at The Prisoner Wine Co.’s website.


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