Wood Artisan Reveals His Prison Experience 

 Jeremy Mackenzie holds one of his wood carvings.   AUTUMN BENJAMIN/The Vermont Cynic
Jeremy Mackenzie holds one of his wood carvings. AUTUMN BENJAMIN/The Vermont Cynic

When you look into Jeremy Mackenzie’s eyes, you would never know he spent eight years in prison.

His artwork tells another story, one of victory and hope, of freedom and devotion. It tells his story.  

“Hidden Blueprints” is a collection of wood carvings, located in the Amy E. Tarrant Gallery at the Flynn Center. Mackenzie, jailed for drug trafficking and bank robbery, spent his time creating blueprints, reading and learning philosophy.

“Time,” he said, “Use it not as an enemy, but an ally.”  

He cuts out his blueprints on wooden panels, and the stories they tell are mesmerizing. There are no cell bars or depictions of confinement in his pieces. Instead, Mackenzie reflects on moments of triumph or moments where he could connect to the outside world.

Having the chance to hear his story juxtaposed with each piece makes his work compelling.

“This is one of my favorite pieces, and the reason is because of that right there,” Mackenzie said while pointing to a praying mantis. “That’s Mikey.”  

He went on to tell the story of the facility he was at in Kentucky.

When he first arrived there, he found a culture based on fighting these “mantises,” much like cock fighting.

Mikey was a super friendly mantis who won all his fights.  

Eventually, the other mantises stopped fighting Mikey.

 One of Jeremy MacKenzie's wood sculptures.  AUTUMN BENJAMIN
One of Jeremy MacKenzie’s wood sculptures. AUTUMN BENJAMIN

The more the inmates interacted with the mantis, the more it started to connect and interact.

Mikey became a friend. And then there was an uprising against the administration.

There was a fire in part of the facility and nobody made it back to their cells.

“So in this fucking riot that we have in this facility the only thing killed is our champion fighting mantis, which was ridiculous and sad,” Mackenzie said.   

Stories like these are where Mackenzie found inspiration for his pieces.   

“When you are locked up, it’s like there are parts of yourself that are locked away,” Mackenzie said.

“It was Mikey whispering to the boy version of myself,” he said, “telling me his story of a captured prisoner who’s taken to the coliseum to fight a bigger opponent, and wins, and goes on to have a life before he dies.”