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Image: People using their hands to create pottery.

Crafting Second Chances: The Story of the People’s Pottery Project

Stop and take a moment to look at your hands. What do you see?

Do you notice the same indentation on your thumbs that your mother has? Perhaps you see a scar from childhood, or a nail that never quite grew back properly after a sports accident? Most of us can look back at these physical reminders and fondly reminisce about their origins. But for someone who has been incarcerated, looking at their hands often brings on feelings of shame, regret, and hopelessness. These individuals can’t escape their past, even after serving their sentence. Even after completely turning their life around.

So what can you do to reach forward when your hands bear the constant reminder of their biggest mistakes? You look for the helpers.

In this case, “the helpers” arrive in the form of a nonprofit that rewrites the narrative about what our hands are capable of after incarceration. It’s called People’s Pottery Project, and they’re breaking down the barriers that make the near-impossible transition from life behind bars to back out into society, so difficult to overcome.

Image: People using their hands to create pottery.
Image description: Hands making pottery// Source: Pixabay

The People’s Pottery Project’s origin story begins where a lot of peoples’ does…outside of prison.

Co-founders Ilka Perkins and Domonique Perkins were imprisoned for gang-related offenses at very young ages. Barely adults, but tried as mature individuals, both women grew up with hardships that most of us are lucky enough to know nothing about, and then found themselves in situations that gave them no choice but to make some bad decisions.

Ilka and Domonique spent much of their formative years incarcerated. They were both released on parole for good behavior, but the only world they knew outside of prison had become a different place.

According to them, the greatest barrier to entry back into functioning society for a previously incarcerated person is getting just one chance to prove themselves. One of the hardest hurdles to cross is securing a job so that parole officers will consider your case. But not many businesses will give a former prisoner the time of day. Furthermore, not many people have a support system to help them navigate this new world. 1

As Ilka and Domonique put it “ Prison breaks you, and then puts you back into the world a broken person.”.

Searching for a second chance.

When Ilka was released from prison in 2019, she began taking pottery classes at a local art studio in Glassell Park, Los Angeles. Soon after, Domonique got involved. They both displayed a raw talent and joy for pottery, delighted by the sense of calm and healing peace that it brought to their lives. For the first time ever, they were able to look at their hands—that were once considered violent—and see that they could create something beautiful.

The owner of the studio took notice of Ilka and Domonique’s transformation and offered them the second chance of a lifetime. They now lead a non-profit organization that challenges the stigma of employing previously incarcerated people, and offer them an opportunity for healing, creativity, and to help others who are experiencing the same challenges.

People’s Pottery Project’s mission is to employ and empower formerly incarcerated women, trans and non-binary individuals through paid job training, access to a healing community, and meaningful employment in their collective non-profit ceramic business.

PPP’s flexible programs allow participants to earn a living wage at every point of involvement with the business, from training, to fabricating, to ongoing employment. They provide opportunities to build technical skills through creative ceramic fabrication work, running the ceramics studio, and teaching ceramics classes to local artists and families, as well as develop business skills such as inventory management, writing and promotions, developing business strategies, marketing, and sales.

Through their collective work, members gain a platform to connect to others, share their stories, and ultimately transform the narratives about those who have experienced incarceration. 2

A redemption story best told by those who lived it…

The impact of People’s Pottery Project is best felt by hearing it straight from Ilka, Domonique, and the other people who make up their community of artists and changemakers. Check out this short—yet very moving—video by Participant to dive deeper into their story.

Via: Participant 3

The healing power of reclaiming your fingerprint.

As mentioned in the video, the PPP’s most popular creation for their artists and their customers, is the “Fingerprint Bowl”. Dominique leads others to create this design time and time again, which wraps the bowl’s brim in its creator’s fingerprints.

This piece holds a special power because each bowl that is crafted displays a physical stamp of someone’s healing journey. In the prison system, your fingerprint is essentially a bar code, keeping you in your place as a number rather than a person. These ceramic bowls give that human another chance to reclaim their identity. A rebirth if you will, so they can write a new story for themselves going forward.

“…With my hands, somebody is gonna be grubbin’ off the plates that I made, and you know, hopefully they lick the plate, you know? Make me feel really good about myself. “ -Dion

When building a community of second-chancers, you won’t find a more grateful bunch of people!

The main factor that drove Ilka to gang activity in the first place was the sense of togetherness that is offered. Now, as a leader and advocate for others with a similar story, she is able to heal from past trauma and cultivate a safe space and sense of security for herself and others. This time, she has a group of people who have come together for all the right reasons.

If you’d like to support their work and maybe purchase one of their heartfelt ceramic creations, you can shop People’s Pottery Project, sign up for a class, or donate to their cause right here on their website.

Can we learn from their stories? It’s never too late to start over.

At the root, Ilka and Domonique’s life stories give us a chance to reevaluate our own biases. You just never know what led someone to make a mistake. Really listening to someone’s story can open our eyes and consider what we would have done in the same situation. Are we really that different?

If you haven’t necessarily been running into trouble with the law, but do find yourself repeating patterns that don’t serve you, maybe it’s time to try your hand at something new. Perhaps channeling that energy into something creative will help you connect with others and rekindle your confidence. And, if you discover that you too can use your newfound talent to help others, keep the goodness going, dear friend.

Keep dreaming, and notice the beauty around you!

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  1. Ex-Prisoners Face Headwinds as Job Seekers, Even as Openings Abound. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/07/06/business/economy/jobs-hiring-after-prison.html. Published 2024. Accessed March 7, 2024.
  2. Peoplespotteryproject.com, 2019, https://www.peoplespotteryproject.com/the-project. Accessed 7 Mar. 2024.
  3. Participant. “Meet People’s Pottery Project, Formerly Incarcerated to Fine Art | Meet a Participant.” YouTube, YouTube Video, 11 Apr. 2022, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=537ezn9HKoM. Accessed 7 Mar. 2024.‌
Image: Renee Laroche-Rheaume

Renee Laroche-Rheaume

Outreach Coordinator & Writer

Renee is a graduate of FIDM, and has held jobs in several industries such as apparel manufacturing, retail, professional office work, and even hospitality. Her creative outlook, wide variety of experiences, and desire to notice the beauty around us make her a great addition to the Goodness Exchange team.

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