Chris, Inmate Facility Customer Success Story

Interviewed and Compiled by Anne Marie Hunter, Exclusively for Fire Mountain Gems and Beads®

Freedom Created Necklace
Meet the Designer-Artist

From his modest studio, a small pest control shed at the California Men's Colony, Chris has been creating jewelry for over 25 years. With used aluminum wire, discarded leather jackets or stones he may find in the yard, along with jewelry-making products from Fire Mountain Gems and Beads®, Chris has produced countless beautiful designs.

Anything he finds, Chris creates with. He'll pick up some paper clips and make a chainmaille bracelet. He designs intricate Byzantine jewelry with both used welding wire and wire from Fire Mountain. Four times a year, Chris purchases Celestial Crystal® beads, Hemalyke™ or malachite and other beading materials. His designs are a combination of these products and found objects.

Chris' tool selection is limited to sandpaper, razor blades and a pair of toenail clippers. Occasionally, he has access to a tile saw for stone cutting. "Do you have any idea how much fun I will have when I can actually use real tools like lapidary equipment, buffers, dremels or a Foredom®? Man, there will be no end," Chris exclaims.

Chris began his jewelry-making journey in 1988, three years after his confinement at the CMC. "I was out of control, a wild child. I had to learn to sit down and focus. It was drawing, beadwork or something. I learned to create something beautiful and making jewelry became my freedom, my release."

Chris is self-taught. Initially, he started with lost-wax casting by scraping the sides of the facility's casting machine for silver splash. "It was like wow. I created something with my own hands and it made me feel good about myself. There's a lot of time to think when you are sitting still and making jewelry. It helped me reevaluate. Some people read the Bible. I turned to jewelry. The Bible came later. It's there, too."

Inspired by the simplest of objects, Chris creates jewelry with virtually anything he finds. He may start a design with a stone he's found in the yard. Once he carves, or cuts and polishes a stone, he completes the project with beadwork embellishments. Turquoise and serpentine are Chris's favorite gemstones. "I like to carve on serpentine and recently finished carving a butterfly." Chris reflects, "I could be in a bad mood and feel instantly happy when I put a necklace together. After 25 years of making jewelry, they come out pretty."

"My hands are to me like wings for a bird. Without these hands, I don't know what I would do. I have arthritis and joint problems, but as long as I can use my fingers, I'm good. The only time I'm not creating is when I'm sleeping. It's very soothing and important to me. Even when I'm sleeping, I can think about it. The feeling of satisfaction upon completing a beautiful piece makes my heart soar. Then seeing the face on the person who receives it sets me free."

Since arriving at the CMC, Chris has become an accomplished jewelry artist. In addition, he's taught jewelry-making to many of his fellow inmates. Along with earning a GED, he's trained and received licenses for two trades--welding and machining. For 17 years, he's worked in mechanical maintenance at the CMC and is certified both as a hazmat specialist and refrigeration technician. Also, Chris searched for and found his biological mother in 2007. This reunion has been profoundly joyful for both mother and son.

Chris is eligible for parole in 2016. If granted parole, Chris wants to learn more about stones, expand his craft, take gem classes and have his own shop. "Many inmates have a lot of talent. There are gifted carvers, writers and artists in prison and I would like to give them a chance, too. I would love to have a place to sell our [their] art."

Chris has many hopes and dreams, inspired by his love for making jewelry. There is one wish he holds close to his heart. "I would like to meet Chris and Stuart."