Forgive Everyone Co., a company focused on advancing criminal justice reform through art, organized a house show and accompanying art show on Walnut St. in Kalamazoo on Friday, August 30.
Just inside the entrance of the house, people grouped together to look through crowded doorways into the living room to see bands Pete and Bergie, Retainer, and Pistol Gang perform their sets. Traveling upstairs, the art show was drawing small crowds as well as a long line for the free screen printing for anyone who brought a piece of clothing they wanted a design on.
The art show had a unique feel to it as all of the art included was made by currently and formerly incarcerated artists telling many of their stories through images.
“Some of these people were caught up in bad things, others committed the crime,” said Skyler Rich, the founder of Forgive Everyone Co. “It doesn’t make them written off as a person.”
Rich’s inspiration and motivation for starting his company stemmed heavily from his own experiences in high school and college.
“In high school, I was being actively radicalized by the alt-right online,” said Rich. It wasn’t until he went to college and met a friend from a different background that he started thinking over his beliefs.
“He decided to forgive me instead of being angry at me,” said Rich, talking about the impact of his new friendship. “I’ve never had an ideological change happen so immediately in my life.”
“I learned that mass incarceration disproportionately affects minority communities,” added Rich. Rich then realized how most of the talk in the media about those in the criminal justice system revolves around a focus on pity and shame and knew he wanted to do something to change that line of discourse.
“I went on to view clothing as that avenue,” said Rich. Starting up Forgive Everyone Co., Rich focused on reaching out to those formerly and currently incarcerated to share their stories and their art. The art is then put on clothing and sold, then 20 percent of the proceeds are donated to nonprofits to help provide housing, employment, and rehabilitation.
The one thing that Rich requires of people who contribute is that they care. “I won’t let anyone do art who doesn’t care,” said Rich.
“I’m asking people to share the most vulnerable parts of their lives,” said Rich. “I think it’s necessary for people to be vulnerable to make any sort of change.”
Rich states that he is providing a platform for those who very much need it. “They can make something of themselves that they are proud of.”
Rich hopes to eventually reach out and expand his company to help other hurting communities.