Taylor Wynn, 23, has been in the aesthetics business for a year. A master aesthetician by trade, she doesn’t model as much as she did in the glory days: a career of being poked, prodded, and solicited was not among her life goals. Now a few years removed from the runways of RVA Fashion Week and the VCU Fashion Show, she primarily accepts direct requests from creative photographers. Last week, she sat down with me to recount some of the harrowing stories of the modeling underworld.

taylor thumbnail

DHR: For how long have you been modeling?

TW: Since eighth grade— about ten years.

How did you get into modeling in the first place?

My sister modeled before me. When she moved to New York City, she basically told her friends, “Hey, if you really need me around, my sister looks just like me.” I was like, “Excuse me, I’m a child, I have no rights.” Little did I know, I literally had no rights.

Was it a wild adjustment to enter that world as an eighth grader?

Yeah. It didn’t feel real. It felt like I was on some stupid CW sitcom.

For the most part I was doing local fashion shows, bridal shows, hair shows. It really depended on what the person needed, but usually it was because they were looking for my sister.

What’s a day in the life of a model when you’re on the job?

It’s a really early wakeup, like 5 or 6 am. I make sure I’m showered, my hair is dried and styled. I pack a bunch of underwear and cozy clothes, things to do because there’s a ton of down time. Then, hope they have someone who can style my hair and have makeup my skin color.

Has there been a time when they didn’t–?

Many. I have had to do my own hair many, many times. Even in recent years, they tried to use a flat iron that incorporated steam, and my hair curled back up after being blow-dried. They were like, “It will work! Steam infusion!” I was like, hold on, this is white people science. They kept trying it on me until they ruined my hair, and I was like, “I’m gonna wear a wig— never mind.”

Now I show up with human hair wigs, which is the same as my hair, but straight every time. They usually put waves in it or put it in an updo. It’s fine— I just had to get used to it.

Anyway, once you show up in the venue, you basically wait in a queue for someone to do your hair and makeup. The event could be at 6 pm, but you have to be there in the early morning. It’s kind of ridiculous.

Sometimes dresses change. You could fall in love with a dress, and then it’s like, skrtt, it looks better on this model.

Is it competitive between models like that?

You would think so, but ultimately, it’s not us that make decisions. There might be favorites— model coordinators have favorites, and you can tell by their shows, by who’s doing the finale pieces, by whose outfits are fit for them.

Is there skill involved in wearing the piece?

Yes. You have to be a good clothes hanger. You have to be a good salesman, and you have to be able to move your body in a specific way.

We had one workshop that took hours on how to walk, so that everyone was walking the same way. It’s like going to ettiquite school with books on your head.

There’s a lot of training your body. And no matter what, you’re going to get critiqued anyway.

That sounds…unhealthy.

A little bit.

After doing runway for a while, I kind of shied away from it. While it was really inclusive and I loved it, it’s a lot of people looking at you and prodding at you. “Your boobs are too big, your waist is too wide, your legs are too long.”

So I gave up for a bit and decided to just be a runway assistant and do creative photography on the side with people who wanted to create a specific image. Of course, you run into a lot of creeps that way. My Model Mayhem DMs are stupid. I have people soliciting the weirdest things from me. Someone wanted me to join their harem. They were trying to get a harem! I was like, “Uh, good luck with that.”

A lot of people think they’re entitled to you because you have “being pretty” listed as a service.

There are a lot of people that try to get nudes this way too. They’ll say, “Oh, I’m a casting director— I need you to wear a bikini and pose like this, and send in pictures.” And they get a lot of people with that— especially a lot of younger models, they get tricked on the Internet a lot. It’s pretty gross.

Commercial modeling is safer. Anyone who is starting out in the industry, I would recommend going with an agency. That’s where I messed up— I just do freelance, things I’m asked because I’m friends with certain people. I’ve done stuff for Apple. I do artistic things, like if someone wants me to pose for a painting. There are tons of different kinds of modeling, and I think I’ve done it all at this point, except pose completely nude. I don’t have that kind of confidence. (Laughs).

I was just thinking that you’d have to be very aware of your body in a way that is healthy—

—and unhealthy at the same time.

Well, in a way that’s honest. Just in order to survive. To a certain extent, you have to know what you’ve got—

—and you have to know what angles it looks good, which is your good side, your bad side, the side that looks skinniest, the side that looks prettiest.

Do models make money?

A lot of people don’t.

At a certain point, you should know your skillset, and that’s when you start saying, “Hey, this is what I charge.”

I know girls that charge $500 an hour, and make that money. You make more money if you freelance, because it’s all going directly to you.

Do you have any creative control at all?

Yeah. If they respect you, yes.

What is appealing about being a model?

If you like attention, you’re going to get it.

People are nitpicking over you, making sure the creases of your eyes are in the right spot. I’ve had people adjust my eyebrow, a piece of hair in front of my head.

Also, sometimes you get free shit. People want you to wear their stuff. If you’re an Instagram model or an influencer, you’ll get a ton of free shit. I never really went that route— I have one professional Instagram for modeling and aesthetics, and I never did the whole social media modeling thing, which is very lucrative. I know people who pay bills with that money.

Twitch model is a thing, too— being a cute girl on streaming services. It’s called “personality modeling.”

Is it hard to work in an industry that is so focused on appearance?

If you’re new and you go in with confidence, they’re going to tear you down and it is not going to be fun. If you’re modest, it’s a lot more fun, because they hype you up. You have to go in knowing what you have, and they’re going to tell you how it is.

What’s the biggest struggle you’ve faced modeling?

Size. Even when I was a size 2, I was technically “too curvy,” and that got me either the creepiest people and the worst attention, or I couldn’t wear a dress, because my boobs didn’t fit. So I tried bikini modeling, and I think I did that maybe twice. I’m not comfortable in it— they don’t fit right. They don’t feel good. And it really, really fucked with my confidence.

There are numerous outfits that I didn’t fit into that I’ve worn. Like straight up, boob out the side, somehow hiding under my armpit.

Also, wearing shoes that don’t fit. I hate it, and everyone that makes you do it. It’s awful.

Does the confidence come in waves? There’s got to be times where you’re like, “Bitch, I’m a model.”

Sometimes. It turns on and off. I’m not very serious, I’m pretty goofy, so I used to have to do this thing where I’d turn on the model personality.

I ask very direct questions, I talk very little, I give no input unless I think something’s terrible. I’m very cut and dry, and it has to do with the confidence I need to walk down the runway or pose in front of the camera— I have to have this bitchiness about me in order to get the pictures they’re paying it for.

Of course, I don’t have to turn it on when I’m doing commercials. Like I modeled for Sears, and they want you as goofy as possible— I was just jumping up and down, and they were like, “Yeah, great, here’s $500.”

What kind of work are you doing now?

I only do 1-on-1 with photographers who specifically request me. I charge a rate for them, because now I have a full-time job working in the beauty industry.

The last time I did runway, it was for VCU’s Fashion Show, and that was exhausting. I don’t think I’ll do runway again for a while. It was basically one big cramp. A lot of girls won’t be eating or drinking water, because they want to look the thinnest.

It sounds like there are some people for whom modeling can just wreck their world.

It does, especially when they dedicate all their time to it and try to go full-time. I know a few full-time models, but they all travel, because Richmond isn’t a big modeling scene.

We talked about creepy strangers online, but do you ever deal with that noise from photographers?

All the time. A dude will pick up a DSLR just to try and get girls. He’ll be like, “Alright, I’m a photographer now, let’s shoot.” You can kind of fish them out: their photos are awful, they have no experience, they don’t know lighting, they’ve never studied any of it, and they have no intention to.

The worst is when these kinds of people have the nerve not to pay. They’re like, “Oh, I’ll pay you with exposure.” Exposure doesn’t pay bills.

Of course, it goes both ways. There are a lot of models who think they shouldn’t be charged for working with a photographer, even if he’s really good. Generally, whoever has the most established portfolio will be the one making money.

We’ve talked about how easy it is to get sucked into the modeling world. Did you ever get lost in the sauce, so to speak?

Yep. I ended up dating a model— two models.

Never again. Two dudes, one after the other.

When your life is intertwined with someone in the community, your connection to reality starts to break. When I broke up with the first dude and started dating the second, the first dude had a real dramatic ass breakdown in public— crying and screaming to my friends about random physical characteristics, like, “Am I not buff enough?” As if that would really even matter. And I felt so guilty the whole time. He cried out all his makeup.

I’ve been lost in the sauce, and I’ve cried at night about not being skinny enough, but I got over it.

In high school, I was kind of sickly, and I didn’t eat a lot. Eating disorders are very common in the modeling world. My friend Sophie got me out of it by forcing me to eat three meals a day— my biological food clock was broken, and my stomach just wouldn’t growl. So she would say “Okay, it’s noon, we’re eating lunch now.” She did that for a week, and she just set me straight and sent me on my way.

Damn, shout out to Sophie.

What do you see for your own future in modeling?

Just working for fun. I’m an aesthetician— a master aesthetician by trade. I have a nice pretty certificate that says I can touch your face.

I kind of want to use it in the modeling industry— a lot of models do struggle with their skin, and I want to see if there’s a way to be an in-house aesthetician for an agency.

That sounds reasonable.

It sounds fun. Especially for teenage models— they can’t really control their skin. There’s hormones everywhere, and they’re just tired. And older models, too– you can model commercially until you’re older, but you still have to look good.

I hate wearing makeup with a passion. I hate foundation. Every time I had to wear it for fashion shows, I would want to claw it off my face. I’d like to make it so that models don’t have to.

Where do you see the industry going in the future?

When they take likes away from Instagram, it’s going to be bad for influencers. I feel bad that they’re doing it— it’s good for individual self-esteem, but for people who do this as a business, it’s going to totally wreck it. The bubble is going to pop, big time.



Xiaoyan Wang, 56, has been practicing acupuncture since 1988. A United States resident since 2000, she got her U.S. license in 2004, and has been working in her own practice, Chinese Acupuncture and Herbs, ever since.

Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese medical practice based on balancing energy. Acupuncture practitioners insert extremely fine, disposable needles with rounded tips just below the surface of the skin to alleviate pain or to help treat various health conditions. The practice is based in ancient Chinese philosophy and likely predates recorded history; for her part, Wang treats patients in a nondescript office complex in Innsbrook.


DHR: What was your first encounter with acupuncture?

XW: Acupuncture is a part of our culture. You heard about acupuncture all the time growing up— it’s in your everyday life.

Do you remember your first acupuncture treatment?

I did acupuncture for myself first when I was a student at medical school.

We practiced in classrooms for each other. The first time I did acupuncture for myself I had a toothache. After the session, I was pain free.

I always do acupuncture for myself— I never see anybody else. Treating myself helps me understand it more, so I will know how to treat my patients in the best possible way.

What’s the main difference between Eastern and Western medicine?

They are totally different medicines. Western medicine is based on science. Our medicine is based on old Chinese philosophy. Yin-yang theory, five elements theory, meridian theory, Zang-Fu theory, et cetera.

Can you combine the two effectively?

It depends on the person. I think so. In China, we don’t practice pure Chinese medicine, actually. We practice both medicines. It really depends on your practitioner’s experience and the patient’s condition.

For example, if there’s a bad infection, or if the patient is in critical condition, Western medicine is the best. But for chronic problems, I think Chinese medicine is the best.

With Chinese medicine, you can help patients to avoid surgeries and medication. Here, I have noticed a lot of people take medicine forever. If you take Chinese medicine– no, no, no, Chinese medicine will cure your disease. Western medicine will sometimes just cover the symptoms.

You also offer cupping and moxibustion treatments.

These are a part of acupuncture. When we mention acupuncture, that means cupping and moxibustion also.

Moxa is a Chinese herb that is burned during moxibustion treatments. There are two kinds of moxibustion treatments. One is indirect moxibustion: burning a moxa smudge stick and warming the area of the body, but not applying the herb directly.

It depends on the patient’s condition. Usually we use moxibustion for patients who have a cold condition or a weak condition.

We also have direct moxibustion. We put moxa on the point of the body and burn it. When it starts to burn, I take it away. This is a stronger kind of moxibustion, but it can only be used for a small area. Indirect moxibustion can be used for a big area.

Direct moxibustion can be scarring moxibustion or non-scarring moxibustion. In general, I do non-scarring moxibustion, because most people don’t like scars.

I have a lot of patients that come to see me for pain relief, so I do more needles and cupping than moxibustion.

How do you diagnose a patient?

We have Chinese medical diagnosis, not Western medical diagnosis. We’d check your tongue, feel your pulses and ask your questions about your disease’s history every time. We utilize your information to make diagnosis based on Chinese Medicine theories and to decide which organ and meridian are affected and what nature the disorder is. We also learned Western medicine in the medical school, so we could do Western medical diagnosis if we want, but we need more information. Physical check-up, blood test, MRI, CT scan. Sometimes Western and Chinese medical diagnoses are the same, but most times they are completely different.

How does needlepoint acupuncture work?

It’s hard to explain it in a scientific way. We have so many different ways to explain it. Nerve-Reflex Theory, the Gate Control Theory of Pain, Implicit Order of X-Signal System, et cetera.

Acupuncture needles stimulate your body so that your body can heal by itself. Something is blocked in your body, and the needles can unblock it. We try to restore your balance so that you’re healthy.

It’s hard to explain why acupuncture works for pain. Sometimes it works right away. Sometimes it will take a while. But it always works. If you have acute symptoms– for example, a mild muscle spasm– after one treatment, you may feel better. If you have chronic pain: no, no, no, it will take a long time. It really depends. It’s complicated, too.

I always think of acupuncture as popping a balloon of trapped energy, but it doesn’t sound like that’s right.

(Laughs). No, no, no. Acupuncture stimulates your body.

When we were students at medical school, we learned physiology. The professor taught us to do an experiment. We did needles in points on a rabbit’s leg: one point on both legs. Before the acupuncture we did a blood test, and we did another test after right away. You could tell a huge difference in the white blood cell count. Big difference. I just couldn’t believe it.

In China, a lot of scientists have done so many researches to find out why acupuncture works— what’s the big difference for the patients? Circulation improves a lot. The local temperature will be a tiny bit lower. If the white blood cell count is high, after acupuncture treatment the white blood cell count goes down back to normal. If the white blood cell count is low, after treatment it goes back up to normal. If the temperature has a high fever, after acupuncture, the temperature of the body goes back to normal.

I can tell from the moxibustion when my patient is feeling better. The first time I do moxibustion for my patient, it will take a longer time for my patient to tell me it’s hot. After I do more sessions, it will be a short time. Why? Because the circulation is better.

These acupuncture points on a body— does anybody know how they were discovered?

Oh, yes. In ancient times, Chinese people poked everywhere. That’s how they found the meridians and the points.

What is a meridian?

A meridian is an ‘energy highway’ in the human body. There are fourteen meridians on the body. Every meridian is connected with an organ— heart, lungs, kidney, small intestines, bladder. Every meridian has different points. Every point has its own function. Every point treats different problems.

Are the meridians connected by blood vessels?

Nobody knows. You just feel it when you have acupuncture treatment.

It’s like a current of electricity, an electric shock. It’s not the nerve system, it’s not blood vessels, it’s not capillaries. It’s just our concept: it’s a meridian.

What is heat?

Heat is if the condition is “too much.”

For example, if the patient has high blood pressure, dry mouth, constipation, redness on the face, easily lost temper: that’s heat. If the patient has high fever, that is heat also.

What kind of herbal remedies do you provide?

So many. We have thousands of herbal formulas. I think classic formulas are the best: they have been in use for near 2000 years. If you know how to use classic formulas, they work very well, but it is very hard to do it. We learned how to prescribe herbal formulas at medical school.

What is chi?

Chi a Chinese medicine and philosophy concept.

In ancient times, people didn’t know why the person was alive. When the person died, they said the person didn’t have “chi.” Chi is the energy flow in the body.

So it’s like a life force.

That’s how we explain it. When we learned this concept at the medical school, we didn’t totally understand. Even today, it is very hard for me to explain it, even in Chinese.

Everything is chi. In general, most practitioners believe that chi stagnation is related to your emotions. If you’re happy, if you’re normal, the chi is flowing. If you’re not happy, you’re angry, you’re sick, your chi is stuck, and you need some kind of treatment to get it unstuck, flowing naturally again.


This month’s artist— Jim Bob Mitchell of Highland Springs, VA— was mixed in a different bucket. A solo painting contractor, the 53-year-old Mitchell is a fountain of folk wisdom. Now a Lakeside resident, he has been painting for over three decades.

Mitchell also spent twenty years serving part-time in the National Guard and graduated a staff sergeant. It is this second career with the U.S. Army that Mitchell credits with giving him the discipline to pursue his trade. Every night, he sets out his clothes, coffee, and sandwich; every morning, he gets up and goes to work.

jimmy mitchell.jpg

DHR: When did you start painting?

JM: I started messing with paint when I was a little kid, man. Ush. I used to take paint out of my grandfather’s garage and put it on boards and trees and stuff.

Do you like painting?

Yeah, dude, I’m into it. I used to always want to be a portrait painter or something, but to me, when you finish a nice clean room and it looks mint, that’s my portrait. And people get to come home and live in it.

Do you look at it as a work of art?

What do you call those people that tell you how to decorate your house? Ush, interior decorators. Well, I can do what they do.

I design spaces. I tell people what looks good and with the times. Right now, beige is really in, and whites. Grays, white trim. It pops. But to be honest, eighty percent of it is prep. The other twenty percent is painting.

When you go to prep, what are you looking at?

The first thing I look at is the nail pops and indentations in the walls where it don’t look right. Especially when you put a fresh coat of paint on, everybody can see it, and that bothers people. They’ll get home from work, be drinking a glass a wine, and say, “Why didn’t that guy fix that?” Gives them something to complain about.

But I fix it. If you do have something to complain about, tell me about it, and I’ll fix it before you write that check to me. That’s why I always get more business from the people I work for. If I get a new customer, they always come back.

I looked for you on the Internet, and I couldn’t find you.

I’m not in the phone book or nothing, man. I can’t afford it. Plus, if I get to the point where I can’t keep up, then I gotta go hire help, then there’s liability insurance. You know the old saying: it takes money to make money.

When did you first start painting professionally?

I was 21 years old. I was painting before then, but as far as going to a real company, I was 21. Citywide Decorators. It was the real deal, man.

What’s a day in the life of Jimmy Mitchell?

Trying to get out of the bed.

The older I get, it’s harder, you know, but I do. The physical aspect of what I do will tear your body all to pieces. Walking ladders, 32 foot extensions— back in the day I could do that. It’s a rough life, man, it’s not easy.

You’ve got a lot of responsibility. You tell these people you’re coming, and you better show up, especially if it’s your second or third day of the job, and you got all your equipment at their house. They want it done, they want you out. Doesn’t matter what shape you’re in— you’re there, or else.

I’m full of mesh from lifting big ladders, and I don’t like climbing big ladders no more. I try to keep my highest ladder to 24 or 28 foot. Realistically, something that big, one man cannot do that job. You’re talking about a very big house, man. It could take like four months, and they want you out of there in two or three weeks— you’re invading their space.

So I tell these people, I take on what I can, and I give the rest to buddies of mine who have legitimate companies.

Are you independent because you dislike working for a boss?

Yeah, kinda sorta. In the painting world, it’s really hard to work for a boss, because everyone has their own ideas of how they want something done. When I look at a house, I analyze the whole thing and imagine the way that I’m gonna do it. It’s not like construction.

Plus, the big boss man has always got a real nice boat, and he gets to go places on trips and stuff. And so I’m thinking, I want to live the American Dream too. So that’s why I do it.

I got a little boat— a poor man’s boat— but I get to take it out, I get to go on trips. I’m happy with where I am. My son’s through college. I’m not getting rich, but I’m very happy. I don’t know what else to say on that one.

When did you start working for yourself?

I was living off Nine Mile Road back in the 1980s. I wanna say it was my first wife. I started working for myself, I had a Jeep, I kept it fully loaded. 1984, I think it was.

How has the industry changed over time?

The products. They come out with awesome products, and I know how to sell it, because I know what’s in it. You never stop learning, man. I want to put the finest product that I can on someone’s investment.

Another thing is the way you deal with people. When I’d make a deal, I used to shake somebody’s hand, but that’s gone now. Now I got to write contracts.

What’s the hardest thing about your job nowadays?

The hardest thing is trying to stay consistent. I try to work every day. Any man that’s out here in business wants to get up and go to work every day. The weather is a factor. I might have to take my weekend on a Wednesday or Thursday, then work Saturday-Sunday so I can bring my money home.

What I do for a living is inconsistent, but I make it work. You stay on the phone, you’re always communicating. If you don’t, you’re gonna fail. I’ve been lucky, knock on wood.

Then you got the power lines, dude. That’s one of the scariest things a painter can deal with. I’m up there by myself, nobody’s watching, nobody’s working with me. I hit that power line, somebody will come find me six, seven hours too late. A lot of painters, statistically, get killed by power lines. It’ll blow a hole right through you, bruh. This is what I do for a living. This is the life of a contractor. It ain’t no joke. You deal with it, you keep moving, if you don’t you can’t pay your bills. Then you got to go report to your wife.

What’s the coolest job you’ve ever done?

The coolest painting job I’ve ever done— ush, you got my brain scrambling, man.

The coolest job I’ve ever done is my dad’s house, out there in Powhatan County, because it’s my father, and it’s a pretty house, and I’m doing it by myself— I don’t know how to describe it— I’m up there, man, I’m surrounded by woods on three sides, out in God’s country, making this house look really nice, for my dad. It’s a personal thing.

If I’m gonna do anything for anybody, I’m gonna paint these people’s homes as if it were my home. But this being my father, it makes you wanna go one-up on it. Oh, I was busting my butt at my daddy’s house.

What’s the hardest job you’ve ever done?

Putting on epoxy at the University of Richmond. You can’t breathe, man. You wear a respirator, but you still gotta go in there and paint one wall at a time.

Epoxy is like putting glue on. You mix two parts together to make the paint. It’s very durable, very expensive paint. It’s what a lot of these people want. Trying to get through the day putting it on— you go in there for twenty minutes at a time.

That’s another thing about being a painter— the chemicals you breathe in every day. It wasn’t because I had to lift a big ladder and go up ninety-five feet. It’s tryna just breathe. To get that fresh breath of air that you want. It was horrible, man. You go by OSHA standards, and it’s still rough.

Will you ever retire?

When I fall off a ladder.

Have you ever fallen off a ladder?

I never fell off a ladder, but I slid off a two-story roof and cracked my coccyx bone and was out of work for two months. Knocked the air out of me. I thought I was gonna die, man, oh, I did. I wasn’t but twenty-one or twenty-two. I had a real struggle with my back for about four or five years after that.

Do you still enjoy painting?

I love it. I wouldn’t know what else to do. I’ve thought about getting out of it, but I can’t. I don’t want to do nothing else, man, I don’t.

Good people man, I always end up working for them again. Quality work at reasonable rates, just like my business card says. Just trying to stay busy, man, carrying my old body through life. Sooner or later I’m gonna slow down. I’m not gonna be able to roll like this forever.

But I can still get down, man. I can go out and knock two offices out in one day. You roll up to a job and they look at you like, “It’s just one person?”

They have no freaking idea what I can do in a day. I’ve been doing this for thirty-five years. Get out of the truck, knock it out. Lay the cloths out. Get it done. If a man’s got a brain, he can make it work.



Ben Paine, the self-styled Son of Common Sense, is a veteran of the American experience.

A Brooklynite born during the Roosevelt Administration, Paine— a self-published political scientist— saw San Francisco in the Middle Sixties. He was in the U.S. Army Reserves when Kennedy was killed in downtown Dallas. He was in New York on September 11, 2001. Just last week, I found him at a bar, drinking a Coca-Cola and editing his political manifesto, To My Countrymen.

Drawing upon ages of wisdom, Paine paints a picture of a political system chronically broken. Of course, this is not so unusual; it is his remedies that are unconventional. He advocates a 28th Amendment to the Constitution, a citizens’ march on Washington, and an Economic Summit to redefine the American economic landscape.


DHR: Does Ben Paine belong to a political advocacy group?

BP: For sure not. Anyone who has read my book would be tearing his hair out to figure out if I was a Democrat, a Republican, a Green Party member, or a libertarian.

What about a concerned citizen’s group?

No. I have a mind that’s very critical, in consequence of which, even the people I prefer for office, I have problems with.

Have you always been politically engaged?

I met my ex-wife at a Dump Rockefeller event. Rockefeller was running for governor of New York state as a Republican, and I was a Democrat at the time. So I was sort of politically engaged back then.

When I entered college, political science was my first major, and economics was my second major. To me, economics is political science for people who are good at math.

I re-engaged about ten or fifteen years ago, which is when I started reading and writing on my first love: politics. And maybe politics is the wrong word, but it will suffice.

Have you had jobs in politics?

No, but I have had a lot of volunteer roles in politics. A lot of my volunteer work was done in New Mexico, where they are so far away from the centers of power that they do have honest-to-God political organizations. When I’ve been in Maryland and Virginia, we’re so close to Washington, we don’t bother with a strong state-level party organization.

It says on the cover of your book To My Countrymen that the book is for “every American who is mad as hell and isn’t going to take it anymore.”

Why are you “mad as hell?”

Any American who is awake to politics and isn’t mad as hell is either stupid or has to think about putting food on the table tomorrow and doesn’t have time to think political thoughts. There is no other excuse not to be mad as hell.

We don’t live in a democracy. We live in a 100 percent suffrage country, but so what? When we elect theoretically “liberal” presidents and Congressmen, nothing liberal happens; when we elect
“conservative” presidents and Congressmen, nothing conservative happens.

The people are absolutely ignored. It doesn’t matter who they elect. Politicians true constituents are their donors. And if you donate to them, you’re just wasting your money, unless you’re really rich, in which case you’re not listening to this interview.

You admit that some people don’t have time to think political thoughts. Is it a civic duty, in your mind, to be politically engaged (and therefore pissed off)?

Absolutely it’s a duty, but if you’re worried about survival, you don’t have time, and you’re excused from my being pissed off at you. The irony is that it affects those people more than anybody else.

If you say politicians’ true constituents are their donors, then what power do the people have at all?

At some level, the people have always chosen the kind of power structure within which they live.

Even when Spartacus led a slave revolt against the Roman Empire, it was a case of one man being able to communicate to a whole bunch of other slaves. He didn’t succeed, in the final analysis, but it lasted a few years before he was squashed.

At some level we all are slaves, as the capitalist system is by definition run by capitalists— that is, the owners, the people with the money. If you work for a private organization, you are somebody who is sometimes called a wage slave. You are dependent on your job for putting food on the table.

Is the power structure in the United States now not too firmly entrenched—especially on the heels of the Citizen United decision— for true change by the people?

If you elect Joe Schmoe, Republican, 7th District, in order to throw out the Democrat that’s been taking money from so-and-so, chances are that Joe Schmoe is taking money from the exact same people.

Is the system too far gone?

I’ll answer that question with a bit of a parable.

Imagine you are a Senator, from wherever. It’s July 2, five years from now. There are three million citizens who have travelled to Washington, D.C. to tell you and your fellows that your jobs may be up for grabs— and maybe more than that.



Are you talking about—?

If there are three million people visiting Washington, D.C., and you’re a Senator, and you’re not pissing in your pants, there’s something wrong with your brain.

That’s my answer to your question.

The federal government has the United States Army at its command.

Three million people!

The United States Army has machine guns.

If you were a soldier, with one of these guns, would you fire on these people?


And perhaps not.

In the past, the United States military has been shown willing to use military force to disperse unruly citizens. I’m thinking of Kent State.

There weren’t three million people at Kent State. And even at Kent State, the soldiers didn’t go nuts. They killed a few people. A few people did some things that I will say, without hesitation, that to this day they regret.

Those four killings were enough to send all the Kent State students running scared. If you fire shots into the crowd of three million, do you think they disperse?

No. Some of them are coming armed.

So you’re talking about a potential insurrection against the federal government?

Potential? Three million people, potential?

They’ve come for something.

So you’re talking about real revolution.

I’m talking about the people asserting a right that they have to rule themselves.

We do not have self-rule. That is what democracy is, by definition. Demos kratia. Maybe we’ve never had it, but it’s becoming particularly obvious since the infamous Citizens United decision, which was, by the way, in no way the first time that the Supreme Court ruled that corporations could be involved in politics.

It sounds like your call to arms is a show of force.

The show of force is a means to an end. The end is that the people rule.

And the show of force is peaceful, until the other side gets stupid. Trying to disperse three million people— that’s stupid.

Hey man, three million people didn’t land on Normandy Beach. Three million people is a huge number. And it’s only one one hundredth of the country. Only one percent of people have to care. The United States does not have the army to disperse three million people peacefully gathered.

And at this point, do you demand changes? How? All laws pass through the legislature.

Ultimately, the end goal of this march is an amendment to the Constitution that makes it clear that, I’m sorry, corporations: the moment you get into politics, you lose your charter, and your CEO goes to jail.

How would the text of such an amendment read?

There are a lot of organizations that have different takes on repealing Citizens United. The organization that I like the most is called Move to Amend.

There are two parts of their amendment: the first is that only natural persons have constitutional rights. That’s a different way of saying that neither corporations, nor foundations, nor non-profits have a part in the political system. The second part of their amendment is that money is not protected speech under the first amendment.

Are you affiliated with the MoveToAmend organization?

I get e-mails from them. (Laughs).

You say you’re saddened when you meet someone who is not “mad as hell” about the political situation, and that these times demand “outrage.” How is outrage productive in solving political problems?

I would like to distinguish between rage and anger. Anger, it seems to me, is an irrational feeling or emotion. For the sake of the question, I would like to suggest that rage is rational, focused, and controlled.

However, I do not suggest that there would be no possibility of violence. I am not a pacifist.

Slaves are nice, or else they get whipped. Resistance that will not accept failure cannot be doctrinally non-violent.

If turning the other cheek works, then I’ll turn the other cheek, but what I’m interested in is winning by any means necessary. This is about self-rule, for God’s sake.

Self-rule is not always perfect. You say in your book that people are not entitled to opinions about science, and you cite climate change as an example, but much of the American public does not believe in anthropogenic climate change. Is there any room in pure democracy for executive authority?

On those kinds of issues, I am in favor of better education.

Self-rule demands an educated citizenry. The only kind of enforcement I would have on that is that people who vote should have to pass a citizenship test.

Are we talking about a math, science—

No. Citizenship test. The same one that immigrants must take.

There are a hundred questions— available online— of which the would-be citizen is asked ten. In order to pass, he has to answer correctly six times.

So it’s not your natural right to vote? You were born here, you live here, you are interested in your society, you have an opinion about your taxes, and you can’t vote on it because you don’t know that Herbert Hoover was the 31st president of the United States?

Clearly you have not read the test— nothing in it is that arcane. Ten of the one hundred questions are on the flag. What are the colors? What do the stripes stand for? What do the stars stand for?

That still has nothing to do with my taxes.

No. It’s all essential stuff about American history, the Constitution, and our institutions.

What about people who don’t have access to that education?

There is no such thing. An attentive eighth grader could pass this test. There’s no reason why we should give non-citizens the right to vote. A big part of that is psychological: “I’m an American.” If that psychology does not include effort from you, then I’m sorry, I have no sympathy. It’s really not a huge amount of effort. Go online and look at the test. If you were born here and you’re over thirty and don’t score a 95 or better, you should be ashamed of yourself.

If you want to vote, educate yourself. If you don’t know what the stars and stripes stand for, look it up on Wikipedia. If you have no computer at home and no library within fifteen miles, ask your neighbor. Easy.

Let’s assume that your revolution is successful and that self-rule in this country is established. There are still a lot of controversial things in this book.

You mention the top tax rate during the War and post-War era, as high as 94 percent from 1944-45. Then there were another eighteen years of 91 percent.

What ethical grounds does the state have for laying claim to 94 percent of your income?

Ethics be damned.

I don’t know how to respond to that.

In the first place, the 94 percent rate was not on anyone’s income. It was on income above a threshold that would not have touched 99 percent of Americans.

Still seems unfair.

Okay. Who cares?

I do. That’s “power issues from the barrel of gun” thinking.

You’re thinking that because you’re rich, you have a 94 percent tax rate. That’s not how it worked.

What I’m thinking is that, if you’re rich, the government claims a huge cut of your money.

Yes, they do. Let’s put this in context: 1944-45. We needed money to pay for the war. We were in a world war where civilization was being fought over. And then, eighteen years after that, taxes were still high, because we hadn’t paid it all off.

We still paid our debts in those days.

Would you be interested in seeing those tax rates again today? We have a 22 trillion dollar debt.

I would be in favor of raising taxes on the top brackets to significantly higher numbers.

You’re also in favor of a wealth tax.

It’s a different argument, but yes, I’m in favor of a wealth tax to replace the income tax and capital gains tax.

Number one: as it stands, the wealthiest people in our economy pay no income tax, because they have no income. If Jeff Bezos has an income, he paid it to himself, which he didn’t.

Number two: in terms of one’s ability to help the country, in terms of paying for the country’s operations, income is really the wrong thing to hit. Wealth is what matters. The amount that you have saved up: in your ownership of homes, in the stocks and bonds that you own.

Doesn’t that discourage investment?


No. And I have nothing more to say about that. There isn’t an economist in the world who would think that that would discourage investment.

Likely the top marginal tax on wealth would be something like 6 percent. It would begin at 1 percent.

Who makes the assessment of your wealth? The IRS?

People will be reporting on the value of their wealth. If the IRS has a problem with it, there is an audit, in which there is an argument. And audits are not simply a matter of “IRS wins.” In a self-rule situation, the people are ultimately responsible for everything. Everything.

As a citizen, you are responsible for what happens in this country. You. That is the job of a citizen.

There are 350 million citizens. That “you” feels a little personal.

It is personal. Why become a citizen otherwise? You’re saying that I want to be responsible for this country. If you don’t feel that way, then don’t vote. You can say “I have no power.” Okay. Don’t vote. Good-bye. I have no interest in you voting. Citizens are responsible for themselves and their fellows. And if they’re not, what is self-rule? To find a Caesar to inaugurate as emperor?

A philosopher-king.

Philosopher-kings usually weren’t philosopher-kings.

Marcus Aurelius. The pax romana: peak civilization.

An accident of history.

Popular rule doesn’t mean we’re always going to be right. But if we don’t have self-rule, it means someone else is in charge of you and your life. It’s one thing to say, “My fellow citizens and I are in charge of our own destiny.” It’s another thing to appoint someone else— a dictator.

Are all citizens subject to a wealth tax? Every year, you pay tax on what you own.


That implies fundamentally that you don’t really own what you own. The state owns what you own, and you’re paying rent.

You can look at it that way if you must, but taxation always does that, doesn’t it?

No, I wouldn’t say so. I don’t pay tax on my record player. I bought it one time, I paid sales tax when I bought it, and now it’s mine. It doesn’t belong to the government. The same would be true if I bought and paid off a home.

Let’s start with reality. The reality is that most homes in this country are owned by banks. You’re paying a mortgage and calling it your own. And yes, it’s yours, sort of. But the fact of the matter is that, for the first twenty years, the bank owns more of it than you do.

But there is an end in sight. You can pay off a mortgage. If there’s a wealth tax, you will always be renting from the government. The state owns your home and you will never pay it off.

You’re not paying tax on things you own. The amount of tax you pay is dependent on your wealth. It is not the same thing as paying tax on your property. It’s a different determination, and it’s more fair.

In the first place, let’s be real. A wealth tax would not hurt you compared to an income tax if you’re in the bottom 99 percent. And I say that because the actuaries who would design the thing would make sure of that.

It’s a psychological difference.

Fuck that.


I’m talking about reality. The reality is that Jeff Bezos and his ten thousand friends at the top have had a total tax bill of zero for the last twenty years. Not to mention the fact that the income tax tops off at 35 percent and the top bracket is 150 thousand dollars.

What social services do you claim the government is responsible for providing?

That’s up to the people!

But if I were in charge, I would say that military defense is always first. Also essential are services that everyone wants, which includes police forces, fire departments, public schools, public parks and forests. It includes something like unemployment insurance, some kind of social safety net if the economy we have is such that people will be injured without it.

Are you in favor of Medicare for All?


Ben Paine has a healthcare plan that has not been discussed. I don’t think we have the time to discuss it today, but it is on my blog.

You’re in favor of raising taxes and collecting more revenue, but you aren’t in favor of many of the popular expensive Democratic programs.

I don’t object to Medicare-to-All because it’s expensive. (Laughs). My objection is that when you ignore economics, there are unintended consequences.

Employment is going to be threatened by technology overtaking manpower. Why have we not approached this from the standpoint of an economic summit?

Let’s get fifty Americans, one from each state, together— economics professors, history professors, psychologists, regular people, CEOs of large, medium, and small companies, workers both union and non-union— let’s get thinkers from every place in the economy you can imagine. Let’s have them sit down in a room, essentially lock the door, and figure out what kind of economic system we want to have in the United States.

350 million people cannot have this conversation. Fifty people can.

Any constitutional amendments discussed at such a summit could be ratified by an Article 5 Convention of the States. According to Article 5, citizens can call a constitutional convention outside of the authority of the Senate and the House, and they can come up with anything they please. The catch is that it must then be ratified by three quarters of the states.

I don’t know that it’s necessary to subject the results of an economic summit to constitutional ratification. They’re not going to come up with something ridiculous, because it’s being agreed upon by fifty people from all parts of the economy.

That seems undemocratic.

I am not in favor of direct democracy. I am in favor of self-rule: by constitutional republic, as designed by a group of brilliant men in 1789.


Nick Lasky is not your every day McIntire Comm School graduate.

The Roanoke, VA native works at the Aquarian Bookshop on Ellwood Avenue. One of eight resident psychics, his daily duties include one-on-one psychic consultations, tarot card readings, and leading shamanic journeys. Lasky explores the non-physical realms of existence with his dog Nigel, and will take guests with him for $20.

How old are you?

I am as old as the universe and as young as the moment.

DHR: When did you first realize you had psychic abilities?

NL: When I was little— like seven years old— I could see spirits. It wasn’t anything I really thought about.

Then, as I got older, I forgot about all that stuff. I was very uninterested in spirituality or religion until the summer of 2012, when I had a profound spiritual awakening.

I traveled all around the country, meeting all kinds of interesting people. It was a huge opening of my energy, and I started having a lot of psychic experiences. I was what people might call an “empath.”

I was able to really feel what other people were feeling. I could stand next to someone and hear what they were thinking. When people were talking, I’d finish their thoughts, without any conscious knowledge of where that came from in my mind.

So, there was a big up-and-down journey integrating that with Comm School. (Laughs).

I got connected with the old Aquarian Bookshop in Charlottesville. Then I got connected with a program called vipassana, which is a meditation retreat where you meditate for ten hours a day for ten days in a row.

That was the profound third-eye experience that allowed me to become aware of my energy and psychic ability in a different way. Before vipassana, it would just happen from time to time. After meditating for a hundred hours, it was like, “Oh, I can focus, tune in, and receive non-physical information.”

DHR: Had you practiced vipassana before that ten-day trip?

NL: No, that was my first experience. Now I do one every summer.

It’s diving into the deep end. It’s the most challenging thing I’ve ever done in my life. Total self-confrontation. But it’s worth it, if you feel that you’re ready.

DHR: Do you believe that everybody has the ability to access psychic knowledge?

NL: 100 percent, yes.

Everyone is psychic, but there are varying levels of sensitivity.

It’s like coffee. Personally, I’m very sensitive to caffeine. If I drink coffee on a normal day, I’m bouncing off the walls. Some people can drink a whole pot and go right to sleep.

It’s the same way with psychic abilities. Some people come way tuned in, but it’s definitely a muscle that can be developed in everyone.

DHR: Does that include Nigel?

NL: Dogs are extremely psychic. They can’t express it in words, but oh yeah.

DHR: I’ve found cats to be even more aware.

NL: Cats, dogs, babies.

You can tell that they know things before they see things.

DHR: Do you have any idea why?

NL: Up until the age of seven, human brain wave states oscillate at an alpha frequency.

After seven, the brain sets in and starts vibrating at a beta frequency. That’s the waking conscious state now.

Alpha, for adults, is a frequency that can be activated through meditation or extreme relaxation. It’s slower, more receptive, more tapped into your own subconscious. If you ever get hypnotized, that’s what they’re doing: slowing your brain waves down so that you’re more open.

That’s the brain wave state that babies are always in.

As for dogs and cats— they’re in their natural state. In our natural state, we’re all psychic. But as a society, we’re so far removed from our natural state.

DHR: Can psychedelic drugs open this window?

NL: Um, yeah. (Laughs). 100 percent, they do.

It depends on the kind of drug or plant, but they can absolutely force open your third eye.

DHR: Does that include cannabis?

NL: Maybe to a very mild extent.

But here’s the thing: with LSD, peyote, mushrooms, et cetera, people come and ask me all the time if they should do them. I always say that it’s not for everybody.

It’s something that, if you know it’s in your path, you should do with an expert or a guide. Like, if you want to do ayahuasca, you should go to Peru and journey with a shaman. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re opening yourself up to realms that are way out there. Psychedelics blow the gates wide open, so to speak.

DHR: S.N. Goenka— the leading figure in the vipassana movement— said that psychedelics are something of a trapdoor on the journey to enlightenment. He labeled them an “intoxicant,” the ingestion of which is a violation of the five Buddhist precepts. You might think you’re enlightened…

NL: …but really, you’re just on a huge ego trip. Yeah, that’s another part of it.

You could have the same visionary experience during an ayahuasca ceremony as you may have during a vipassana retreat. But what has really changed? You go, you come back. Yes, you’ve had the experience. But if you do vipassana, you do the grinding work, and you can achieve visionary states that are grounded. There’s no comedown, and you don’t need anything to get you there, except for being still.

DHR: Are there other ways to enhance psychic development?

NL: Absolutely. There are a lot of different philosophies and techniques. Several people teach psychic development at the Aquarian Bookshop. There are books, there are YouTube videos. It is absolutely something that anyone can learn and develop.

DHR: Are there certain days when your abilities are stronger?

NL: Yes.

DHR: Do you have any idea why?

NL: From my understanding, it boils down to energy.

It takes energy to tune into somebody. On days when I’m low energy, it takes more of a concerted effort to focus. I’ve also experimented with things like fasting, and I’ve found that that can make me more sensitive. But if I’m too hungry, that’s a distraction. But being very full can also be a distraction. It fluctuates.

DHR: How do you tap into someone else’s energy?

NL: It depends on what they’re looking for. Sometimes people will come in with a general, “Tell me what you got.”

The majority of the time, people want specific answers. “Tell me about my man: are we going to work out?” “Tell me about my health.” “Tell me about my financial situation.”

What I often do is ask the person to take a deep breath and say their name out loud a few times. Hearing their name gives me a whiff of their energy. I’ll breathe that in, and that open up energy within me. But there’s different techniques for different lines of questioning.

DHR: Is it possible to read someone without their consent?

NL: Yes.

DHR: I guess that’s probably not ethical. (Laughs).

NL: Well, as a professional psychic, people are paying to see me, so that’s their consent. (Laughs).

If you mean, like, tuning into someone at the grocery store, I would never go up to someone and tell them about themselves without them asking.

DHR: Do you ever read random people just to see what they’re thinking?

NL: Yes. I don’t do that now, but I used to do that as a technique for development. But I don’t have time to do that anymore.

DHR: Now that psychic reading is your job, is it more taxing?

NL: Very rarely.

Psychic readings are just one of the things that I do. The most fun that I have at work is teaching. I lead a guided meditation once a week, I teach astrology, I lead cacao ceremonies, I lead shamanic journeys. Because of that variety, I don’t really get tired of any one thing.

DHR: Back to something you mentioned earlier: you said that when you were little, you could see spirits.

NL: Yes. Now, I don’t see spirits like I see you. But I can see spirits in my psychic vision, in my third eye.

DHR: When you see things in your third eye, is it perceived in a similar way to the way I perceive sight?

NL: The third eye is your center of intuition that goes beyond the physical. It could mean seeing things beyond the senses.

I can also see auras, which is a derivative of using your third eye.

DHR: Can you see auras in the three-dimensional world, as if they were physical?

NL: Yes. I’m looking at yours right now. It’s turquoise.

DHR: Do auras change color throughout the day?

NL: What I’ve found is that people have a predominant aura color for periods of your life. But yeah, if you’re sick it’ll get weaker, or if you’re angry, woah, now it’s all bright red. It’s based on emotion a lot of the time. An emanation of your energy, so to speak.

DHR: Can you communicate with spirits?

NL: Yes.

DHR: Is that a two-way communication?

NL: Yes.

At times, communication with spirits is clear. At other times, it’s not. Tuning into someone in the physical world is much easier for me.

DHR: Do you think sometimes they just don’t want to talk?

NL: It can be. Or it can be the energy around a person, or my energy.

DHR: Are beings in the spirit world typically deceased members of this world?

NL: That’s a loaded question. Many times, yes. That’s usually what people want from me— to connect to an ancestor or something. But there are spirit guides that haven’t incarnated recently.

DHR: Do spirits communicate with you while you’re off the clock?

NL: Yes, but rarely.

Usually it’s a nudge in some direction, like “do this,” or “don’t do this,” or “bring this.”

I’ll also do shamanic journeys where I’ll lead people on a guided journey outside their bodies to connect with a spirit themselves.

DHR: Is there anything you can tell me about me?

NL: Yes.

Take a deep breath and say your name three times.

DHR: David Hunter Reardon. David Hunter Reardon. David Hunter Reardon.

NL: Okay, I’m just tuning into your body right now, and one of the things that I notice is that I feel a very strong pressure behind your eyes, in your temples. I don’t know if that’s an indication of a headache or stress, but there is a lot of stuck energy right here behind your eyes.

Editor’s note: Vision has been the focus of a sensorimotor OCD fixation of mine for years, recently aggravated by a retinal burn sustained while sungazing. There’s no way Nick could have known this.

I sense that it’s something you can move. I don’t know how long you were staring at the sun, but there is so much stuck energy here.

If you go to a good acupuncturist, they’ll know how to move the chi to different parts of your body, so that your energy will flow better.

DHR: Is it dangerous?

NL: It’s dangerous in the sense that stuck energy manifests in some way in the physical. That’s just the nature of energy.

It will give you headaches. It will give you stress. That’s in the short run.

If you don’t do anything about it in the long run, it will create something weird. That’s how people get diseases: stuck energy.

DHR: Has anything truly terrifying ever happened to you in this room?

NL: No.

But I have done readings for people that have had really intense, crazy, terrible, unfortunate journeys. So very occasionally, I will walk out of a reading like, “I need to lie down.” But no experience in this room has ever terrified me.

DHR: One more question.

Do you believe in God?

NL: No.

I experience God.

I don’t have to believe in anything; I’m not into blind faith. You have to get rid of your preconceived notion of what God should be.

God is in everything: source, universe, whatever you want to call it. But you don’t have to put stock or faith in it when you can experience it directly yourself every day.


Not to be confused with his less-fashionable counterpart starring in the Netflix original hit series F.R.I.E.N.D.S., Matthew F. Perry, 22, is back in Richmond to continue his work with the Richmond Community Bail Fund.

In the spring of 2019, he graduated from New York University summa cum laude with a degree in Social and Cultural Analysis. But his prouder accomplishment is co-founding the Richmond Community Bail Fund with Ashley Diaz Mejias in 2016. Like the other sixty-nine bail funds licensed in the United States, the RCBF is a 501c3 certified non-profit dedicated to liberating persons who have been detained without trial and cannot afford to post bail. The organization has three active members— Perry, Mejias, and Luca Suede— and since June 2017, the group has posted bail for twenty-five people.

BSW caught up with Perry to discuss the Bail Fund, the concept of prison abolition, and the system’s roots in American slavery.

matt perry.PNG


DHR: What are the functions of the RCBF?

MFP: The most direct function is that we bail people out of jail who can’t afford to do so themselves.

On the level of direct service, we also give all the people we bail out support in meeting their pre-trial release obligations. Anything that the court says they have to do before their trial, we help them get that done. Often, that means driving them to and from court.

We have a few reasons to be interested in that: first, obviously, we don’t want to see these people get ensnared by the system we tried to free them from in the first place. On top of that, if they violate the terms of their release, we may not get the bail money back.

If they miss one of these appointments, then they’re in trouble. Our first client had a pre-trial obligation to go to a downtown office every week, but he was homeless and lived in Mechanicsville, so we had to give him a ride. If he had missed the appointments, there would have been a warrant out for his arrest, then he would have been charged and held without bond.

The direct service work is inextricable from our ultimate goal: to create a society in which we aren’t needed. The fact that a bail fund has to exist is pretty upsetting. There are so many legally innocent people who are in jail because they couldn’t come up with a thousand dollars that over seventy non-profit organizations are dedicated to bailing out some small fraction of that population. The fact that that is true is a pretty unflinching indictment of society.

People shouldn’t be held in a cage before they receive their verdict, and especially not because they can’t afford to free themselves.

DHR: The function of cash bail is profit, yes?

MFP: There’s a conversation to be had about what incentives the systems actors are following that made it this way. Profit is absolutely one. Anti-black racism is obviously another one. Then there’s something to be said about the inertia of proceduralism. There’s a lot of people just doing their jobs every day who don’t view themselves as contributing to a project of racist mass incarceration.

DHR: What is your current position in the bail fund?

MFP: We don’t have hard roles, but the term I use is co-director. The most accurate way to sum up my current involvement is that I am one of three people who collectively run the day-to-day operations of the bail fund.

DHR: How did you get involved in anti-prison-industrial-complex activism?

MFP: At the very start of my first semester at NYU— I think mid-September— I was friends with Sam Ulmschneider on Facebook, and he posted a link to a New York Times article called the Bail Trap.

It’s an article about the injustices of the cash bail system, using specific examples from New York City. The article name-dropped an organization called the Bronx Freedom Fund, which was the first formal bail fund to be incorporated into a 501c3.

I only use that qualifying language because people have been organizing bail funds for as long as there has been bail. But this was the first real formal, institutional, licensed non-profit.

I had just had a meeting with the people in my dorm building at the time. I was in a dorm that was supposed to be focused on community service— I initially applied because it was right off of Washington Square Park. (Laughs). But I ended up in some big meeting with one of the dorm administrators, and he was saying, “We do a lot of event programming; we like to do stuff that’s enriching. If you have any ideas for an event, you’re always welcome to come and talk to me.”

I was an eager young college kid, and I wanted to get college started on the right foot, do something cool, you know. So I shot at email to the account, saying, “Hey, I’m a freshman at NYU, I’m in a dorm that has this many kids, was wondering if you wanted to talk sometime about doing an event here sometime.” At this time, the Bronx Freedom Fund was one person, Ezra Ritchin. He responded back, and we had a phone call where I said the same thing. I kind of oversold it— “Oh, we have hundreds of students, we could leverage them for blah blah blah”— but anyway, we organized a panel event where he and the executive director of the bail fund came down to NYU and spoke to a professor who was one of the faculty-in-residence for the dorm.

DHR: And this is just you, early freshman year, trying to have a good time.

MFP: Yeah, pretty much, but it went well, and since I was looking for something to do the next summer, I ended up asking if I could intern with the Bronx Freedom Fund, and I became one of their first two formal interns. It was a tiny organization with a ton of work to do, so I was basically just an unpaid employee.

I got to work with Ezra, who had graduated recently, and was already running this complex non-profit. He was very articulate about his passions. I got to know him very well that summer, and I got to see what a successful bail fund looked like up close.

That summer, my dad drove me home from school, and we have the type of relationship where we can talk about big-picture philosophical political things at length. So we ended up talking about bail quite a bit, because the outrage for me was still fresh. I’ll talk about bail now, but I could really talk about it then. Like, “Can you believe that they do this to people?”

So, my dad, who was on the board for the Blue Sky Fund at the time, asked me if I wanted to be put in touch with some of the board members who he thought might be interested in a bail fund. After lots of long-distance phone calls, we assembled a working team of adults in Richmond who were actually capable of doing the leg-work required to start a non-profit.

So, basically, it was explicitly collaborative before it even got off the ground. Ashley Mejias was one of those people who was in right away, along with her husband Alex, who actually is the chair of our fiscal sponsor, the Business Coaliton for Justice. Certainly without them, there would be no bail fund.

Spring of 2017 was when we began work, and we bailed out our first person that June, and we’ve been rolling ever since.

DHR: I have to go back to a point that you made earlier. You said, “Obviously, people should not be detained in prison before they get their verdict.”

I don’t think that’s necessarily obvious to many people. 

What would your response be to someone saying, “Look, this guy robbed me, or raped me, and there’s no amount of money you can pay to get him out.”

MHP: This is a question that people who take an abolitionist approach— as I do, and which the bail fund does— often get: “What about the people who are true public safety threats? What do we do with murderers and rapists?”

My answer is that there are ways to ensure public safety in those scenarios that don’t rely on cash bail and don’t rely on an indiscriminate systemic presumption against pre-trial release for every defendant, which is what we have now.

DHR: When you say abolitionist, what I understand is that you are in favor of abolishing all prisons.

MFP: Yes.

Abolitionism isn’t concerned so much with the destruction of the existing system but with the creation of what would replace it. In a world without cash bail, if there were someone arrested on clear evidence of having murdered somebody, we would still be able to sequester them from the rest of society.

If a person poses a clear and present danger to other people, we should detain them— but in conditions that are more humane. Like, we don’t need to lock them in a cage and deny them access to sunlight and adequate nutrition. How does having only one tiny window in a prison cell make the rest of society safer?

There are so many other ways to ensure and implement public safety, and the way that we are currently doing this is killing thousands of people, irreversibly exploding the lives of millions more, and inflicting massive amounts of psychological damage. The crux of the issue is that the way that we are doing it now is unacceptable and intolerable.

DHR: What do you suggest are the other ways to ensure and implement public safety?

MFP: A lot of people across the U.S. are experimenting with restorative and transformative justice systems. There is no silver bullet at this point, but those programs have done a lot of really inspiring and instructive work.

Restorative and transformative justice systems operate a little differently, but the bedrock principle for both is that community members make the crucial decisions— they aren’t run by some unaccountable arm of the state.

It looks for victim support, not punishing the perpetrator. The lens it adopts is, “What do we need to make sure that appropriate reparations are made for the harm that has been done?”— that’s the first question— and the second is, “How do we make sure that this never happens again?”

Oftentimes, the answer to the first question involves working with the victim to see what they want out of the situation, which the current system does not do in any capacity. Just the other day, I was down at the city jail, and a young woman about 21 walked in and told the magistrate, “My boyfriend was locked up last night for hitting me. The judge asked him where he was going to stay if he got out, and he said he was coming to my house, the house that we share. The judge said that was unsafe. I’m here now, I’m saying that it’s safe. Can you please let him out? I want my boyfriend to return home, and I don’t need him to be locked in a cage.”

Obviously, it’s a complex situation, and there are a lot of intricacies in domestic violence that aren’t accounted for in that interaction, but it’s clear that what the pre-trial justice system was doing to her boyfriend was not what she wanted to be done. In order to doubt that conclusion, you’d have to completely disregard what she was saying.

DHR: Somebody might say that the law is keeping her safe.

MFP: What if she’s not saying that?

DHR: Somebody might say that most people can’t think for themselves. I’m not saying that, but somebody might.

MFP: That whole justified paternalism argument— “We can make decisions for other people because we’re wiser than them”— I just think that’s bullshit. I’ll stake that claim and I’ll stand by that.

But we’re kind of digressing a bit. The main point is that transformative and restorative justice systems center the outcomes that the current system pretends to center. Fairness, equity, justice.

DHR: But I think the main question is, if prisons are abolished and replaced by transformative and restorative justice systems…where are the criminals kept? Are people still housed in prisons?

MFP: You would build some sort of building where people are detained, but it would be open air, prisoners would be allowed outside, they would have access to health care, they could interact with each other. They would be treated like humans, who, for public safety reasons, can’t be brought into broader society, but are still living recognizably human lives.

So at that point, do you still call that building a prison? It serves only one similar function, which is to keep people sequestered from the rest of society. The amount of change that would have to happen to get from our system to that system would be so vast that you would have to give it a new name. The change would be fundamental.

DHR: Do you think crime would increase in a society in which prisons don’t serve a punitive function? 

MFP: No, because it would still perform the function of incapacitating people.

If life inside of a prison is comparable to life in broader society, that is a problem with broader society. What kind of argument is that? You’re going to look at the fact that people are committing crimes to get into prisons and say we need to make prisons worse? No, you need to make life better.

DHR: Is there any kind of legislative support whatsoever for prison abolition?

There is support for “reformist reforms.” A reformist reform doesn’t limit the scope and power of the system— it just lessens suffering in some way. A non-reformist reform, on the other hand, would reduce harm while disempowering the system itself.

At the Richmond City Jail, if you want to call the same inmate twice in 24 hours, you have to pay an enormous amount of money. A reformist reform would be using legislative energy and resources to reduce fees for prison phone calls, instead of saying, “We shouldn’t have a system in which people are required to pay any money to speak to incarcerated family members.” Or really— why is there a need for a phone call at all? Why can’t it be an in-person visit?

For most of the legislative history of mass incarceration, we’ve really only ever seen reformist-reforms. Another example would be reduction of mandatory minimums instead of abolition of mandatory minimums.

But I do think that’s starting to shift now. I’ve looked at some of the criminal-justice plans that some of the presidential candidates are putting out, and there are lots of things that would be true reforms.

DHR: What’s an example?

MFP: One of the things that Elizabeth Warren did at the start of her plan was to reframe the idea of public safety. Basically, she said that our current system does not make us safer, and we cannot justify it on the basis of public safety. Public safety looks like giving under-resourced neighborhoods resources. Public safety looks like affordable housing and living wages. Public safety does not look like the heavy club of the criminal justice system.

That kind of language would have been hard to imagine in 2016, and certainly wasn’t around in 2012 or 2008.

DHR: How does the modern American system trace its roots to slavery?

MFP: The popular narrative, propagated in the New Jim Crow and Slavery by Another Name, is that it started with chattel slavery, a system designed to totally subjugate black people and extract maximum profit from their labor. An inextricable part of that was dehumanizing black people and constituting them as a racial other, permanently affixed below white people in a racial hierarchy.

At the time of slavery “abolition,” most of the country was still invested in that hierarchy, especially in the South, but in the North, too. And so, the popular narrative is that once slavery was abolished, there was a brief moments of victory in the fight for multiracial liberal democracy. There were Reconstruction governments that popped up in the South that governed in a way that treated black people as humans deserving of equal rights.

Those governments were defeated by organized white supremacist terrorist movements in the South, aided and abetted by Northern and federal indifference. The people with the investments in white supremacy thereby regained control.

The ruling powers then began to pass convict leasing laws and vagrancy laws. All forms of black social behavior were criminalized. “Loitering on a corner” was suddenly grounds for arrest.

Once you were in the prison system, you would be “leased” to your local capitalist— probably a former plantation owner at this point in history— and you would work for them, once again, for free. So the prison system was used as a means to continue slavery. That went on until the early 20th century, when they began to be sold to state government agencies.

What Douglas Blackman uncovered in Slavery by Another Name is that we see a decline in convict leasing, which means that fewer and fewer incarcerated people were sent to private farms to do work. But instead, they were getting sent to work on public projects. These prisoners were almost exclusively African-American.

The next inflection point in that narrative is the transition from Jim Crow to mass incarceration. Once again, we have one means of racial subjugation that is outlawed— legally enforceable segregation, by the 1964 Civil Rights Act— but then mass incarceration flowers right after, because again, we didn’t change our fundamental societal bedrock investment in white supremacy. At this point, the inherent assumption of criminality has also been extended to Latino people, and queer people, and transgender people, and anyone whose identity marks them as a threat to the social order.

That’s a neat little narrative, and no historical narratives are that causal or straightforward, but I do think that the general spirit of it is true.

This is a society in many ways animated by anti-blackness, and a society with a general illness that inclines us towards punishment as a solution. As a country, we have a fundamental belief in the righteousness of violent punishment, and that undergirds the prison system. It is an addiction to punishment that is kind of unprecedented.

DHR: The Roman Empire used to crucify people.

MFP: Well, yes, but I’m talking about the scale of the phenomenon. The scale of the American prison system is unprecedented, and the outrageous numbers are relatively recent. The go-to statistic is that we have 5 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of the world’s prison population. There are more people in pre-trial detention today than there were total incarcerated persons in 1970.

I think the meanest way of saying this is that White America has never properly reckoned with the ways in which we still are racist on subconscious levels, ways in which we automatically conflate skin pigmentation with certain characteristics.

DHR: I would guess that there is probably something in the subconscious mind that recognizes another skin color as “the Other,” tracing its roots back to the tree shrew days, when fear of the Other was necessary for survival. There is a worldwide phenomenon in which perceived, often slight physical differences between ethnic groups cause humans to behave strangely.

MFP: One of the books that helped me understand this the best was Racecraft. The authors argue that racism predates race as a concept; pigmentation was proxy for some kind of perceived fundamental difference, and the name that they gave to that difference was “race.” But why does that form of social difference seem so ingrained into our social orders in the way that other social differences aren’t?

I would say that it’s because we decided to actually use pigmentation as a basis for economic exploitation and the construction of a global economic order. And that’s what the Trans-Atlantic slave trade was.

Once you use it as a basis for economic exploitation, you suddenly have a plutocratic class that is invested in maintaining that social difference. That difference is now more durable, because the most powerful people in society are actively working to keep it alive, by propagating the myths of racial superiority and controlling people through fear.

A lot of people in my field make the point that you can’t understand race and capitalism as being separate from each other. They are intertwined. It’s hard to say that racism is entirely an invention of rich people trying to turn a profit, but it is also impossible to give any fair reading of history and say that racism exists separately from the incentives that people in power have for maintaining it.

DHR: Does capitalism exist without racism?

MFP: I don’t believe that it does, because capitalism always has to rationalize the inequalities that it produces. It has to bridge the gap between what it promises and what it delivers.

DHR: Define capitalism.

MFP: The academic theory that I would use is: any economic system that involves generalized and continuous productivity growth and in which there is market dependence. Market dependence.

Societies throughout history have used markets, but you did not have to sell your shit on the market to survive.

In order to maintain access to the means of production, you have to turn a profit. If you can’t sell your shit— goods or services— you can’t even get yourself food.

DHR: Basically, in pre-capitalist European societies, everybody had access to food and shelter, because the lords depended on the peasants to grow their food, right? Starving all the peasants would not have made your farm collective efficient.

MFP: I’ll give a more contemporary example: British colonists in India had a harder time making Indian serfs productive than American slavemasters did making slaves productive. The reason for this is that families in India were not going to use 100 percent of their land to grow crops for market. They weren’t going to grow monoculture cotton from sea to shining sea and sell it. They were going to use some of their land for sustenance and keep it for themselves.

DHR: Is market dependence inherently racist?

MFP: No.

DHR: Can capitalism exist without racism?

MFP: I don’t believe that it can.

DHR: Please clarify.

MFP: In order for market dependence to become an accepted organizing principle of society— in order that the people who live in the society are not so angry about it that they revolt— the broader population has to view the people who suffer from market dependence as deserving of that suffering, because they are fundamentally inferior.

Racism is a very efficient way to do that.

DHR: So in theory, there could be a market-dependent society which does not involve racism, but would always necessarily involve some form of social transgression.

MFP: Yes.

That brings us back to the prison system as a reinforcing factor for slavery and racism.

DHR: Understood. Okay, we have to get back to some of these questions.

Say that you bail somebody out of jail who was arrested on suspicion of having committed a violent crime. Immediately after being bailed out, the perpetrator commits another crime, this time discharging a firearm and taking a life.

Do you feel any sense of hypothetical responsibility, and does the situation give you any pause?

MFP: The answer to the first question is of course. That would fuck me up. But that’s not going to change how I act.

This is probably the question that I think about the most, actually: is there a person that I wouldn’t bail out? And the answer every time is no.

First of all, we should flag this at the beginning: murder and armed robbery are never going to get a bail posting. Sexual assault is also extremely unlikely to get a bail posting.

We had this conversation at a National Bail Fund Network conference last year. The way that I justified it was this: Let’s say that there’s someone about to post bail for, and I hear from their attorney that the charge is domestic violence.

The only way that I would not post bail is if I personally knew that they were going to harm someone specific if they were set free.

You can never be 100 percent sure what somebody will do when they are set free, but you do have a 100 percent probability of what is going to happen to them in jail.

You sit in a cage for days at a time. You, more than likely, lose access to any employment you have. You could lose access to housing. You could lose access to childcare.

Consigning somebody to that fate is an act of violence, and it has to be weighed as such.

When I weigh those factors, the only one that I could ever foresee outweighing the act of violence of keeping someone in jail would be the act of violence of letting someone out. That’s the only time that calculus comes out in favor of keeping someone in jail, and I just don’t ever see that happening.

DHR: A nihilist might respond to your work with the RCBF and say, “You, Matthew Perry, are the only experience that you can possibly know. Focus on you. Make money, enjoy yourself, and leave other people alone. Prison reform is not your business.”

MFP: I am focusing on me by doing this work. This is what gives me pleasure. This is my calling. I don’t think I’m a rare breed in that sense.

But I don’t want to excuse all the people who just say fuck everything and do what makes them happy.

DHR: Okay, so what is the responsibility of everyday citizens, who more than likely want to go happily about their business?

MFP: I’m wary of any universal claims, but I do think that the everyday citizen— people in general— have a responsibility, or a moral obligation, to lessen the suffering of people they come into contact with.

There is a lot of suffering in the world. There are things we can do to lessen it. I think it is an ethical imperative that we do so.

I can almost see how you can arrive to that point through a nihilist worldview— like, “Well, none of this matters anyway, so whether I’m on a yacht for twenty years or teaching classes in prison, I’m going to be dead and I’m not going to remember it.” So why would you not want to lessen the suffering of others in the limited amount of time that you have? If nothing matters, at least that’s real.

I can die knowing I made other people happy. If I spent twenty years on a yacht, it’d be like, “Okay, well that’s over with now. I had some fun, but what did I do?” But if I’m active in my community, then that work is passed onto the future, and that’s a way that you can outlive death, in a sense.

If what you did on this Earth reacts with other people on this Earth after you’re gone, they carry a piece of you with them. I’m more than just my body.

DHR: How would you respond to accusations that your work is a manifestation of a white savior complex?

MFP: That’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while.

The first part of it is that there are always ways to go about the work without behaving like a savior. The way to do that is to always look to work collaboratively, and to take cues from people who have been directly impacted by the system you’re trying to change.

If I was doing this in a vacuum, totally insulated from the impact of organizers, then my work would be a lot different. It would be a lot more “High School Kid Founds Non-Profit.” I’d be a lot more focused on the development of the non-profit than on the services we offer, because I would think I was the key ingredient.

Where I kind of cut my teeth organizing was the Incarceration to Education Coalition at NYU, which was founded by Cory Green, a formerly-incarcerated man, who has given me some of the most valuable organizing lessons I have ever had. And it’s not enough to learn from a couple of directly-impacted folks at the beginning; it’s a perspective that suffuses your work.

If you do good work, listen to the people who tell you when you slip up, correct your behavior accordingly, and don’t work in a way that is ostentatious, then you’re going to be fine. It’s not that hard.

There’s a lot of discourse around the idea that it’s hard to be a white activist because you have to walk on eggshells or check yourself all the time. Yes, there’s definitely an element of heightened self-awareness. But if you have to actively police yourself that much, that’s probably a problem. If you just interact with humans as humans, more likely than not you’re going to be fine. If you have a good head on your shoulders and common sense, you probably won’t offend the people you’re trying to serve.

You hear people say, “The left wants you to think about your whiteness all the time.” My answer is that if you’re a thoughtful person, it’s not that hard. If you consider all the things that you have to consider to move through this work responsibly as a very privileged person— which I am— and be attentive to all the ways that that has given me blind spots in certain areas, then that is work, yes, but it’s not hard to the point that I would complain. It’s just necessary for what I do. And if I’m thoughtful about it, I can do it. It’s pretty simple.

DHR: In the everyday life of an average white man, is it necessary for him to think about the fact that he is a white man in order to be a responsible citizen?

MFP: I would say probably yes. Thinking about that politicizes you. If you have an awareness that society treats you differently because you are white, then you have to consider that before acting. And I do think we all have a responsibility to eliminate racial inequality.

DHR: Essentially, you’re saying that human beings have a responsibility and calling to more than themselves.

MFP: If you think that you don’t owe other people shit, you do not realize how much they’ve given you.

At this point, it boggles my mind to think about conceiving of myself as an individual unit. That’s fundamentally not what I am. I am irreversibly part of a society. You cannot exist outside of it, and you have an obligation to society for that reason. Keep up the shit in your own house.

To bring it to right here and right now: if you’re not acting right now, there’s not going to be a world for much longer. A lot of the shit that’s been brewing is reaching crisis level.

DHR: Okay, last question: how can ordinary citizens get involved in the Bail Fund?

MFP: With the Bail Fund, the best way is to put out word about us to whatever communities you’re in. The more people that know about us, the more likely it is that when someone is arrested and given a bail that they can’t afford, they’ll have a friend or family member who’s heard of us, and will get into contact with us.

You can follow us on social media. We have a Facebook page and a Twitter, @rvabailfund. And this is certainly not an obligation, but donations are always appreciated. 100 percent of donations go to posting bail at this point.

That’s just how to help the bail fund. In terms of how to help the world: look around, and look for what people are already doing, and ask yourself how to support it. That’s also a way to avoid the savior complex: don’t assume when you do something that it’s the first time someone’s done it.


After a 16-month run as Richmond’s best local Facebook meme page, the admin of Locally sourced, microbrew Richmond memes sat down for an interview.

I was surprised to find that Locally sourced, microbrew Richmond memes is not a formless entity that exists solely on the Internet. However, she requested that her name, age, and other personal details be stricken from the record, so you’re just going to have to take our word for it.


DHR: What inspired you to create the page?

Locally sourced, microbrew Richmond memes: Well, my first meme was about Scott’s Addition:

I showed it to my boss, and she said I should make a meme page, so I did. But I think Facebook is a dead platform, and the only meme page that I like on Instagram is Gay Vape Shark.

How much time do you spend on the Internet a day?

Almost none. I have a timer on my phone that will turn off social media if I’m using it for more than fifteen minutes. If I think of a meme, then I make it, which takes me about two minutes. Then I post the meme, turn my phone off, and I don’t look at it for the rest of the day.

What are your interactions like with other people through the page?

I get death threats. I get a lot of violent messages. Everyone assumes that I’m a man– nobody assumes that I’m female, and even if I told people, I feel like they wouldn’t believe me. People say that I hate women, that I live in my parents’ basement, that I have no life, et cetera.

If you aren’t particularly interested in the Internet, you only spend a small amount of your time making memes, and you get all kinds of hateful messages– why continue the page?

If I feel passionate about something, then I’ll make a meme about it, and I like to see how people feel about it. For example, I really like the Byrd, so I made a meme about the Byrd, and it’s my favorite meme. I want to see someone respond– I like communicating with people.

I also like poking fun at the quirky things that the city’s got going on.

I hate the way modern restaurants are decorated. That’s my biggest thing. The industrial furniture, the reclaimed wood, the pipes, the seats that are awful to sit in. Nothing is unique anymore in that respect, and it makes me so mad. So I like to communicate that as much as I can.


Is there a community of meme page admins?

Well, I do communicate with Tyler Walter: he’s the meme supreme around here. He communicated with me early on and wanted to collaborate, but a lot of his stuff is Reddit-influenced in nature.

He’s associated with New Urbanist Memes for Transit Oriented Teens and Suave_meme_stash. He focuses on public transportation. I like to make fun of interior design, and I like to make fun of businesses.

Do you view your role in the community as a public critic?

I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about what I am or what I do, and a lot of the stuff I say is just off the cuff, and I don’t even give it time. I just make memes and I share them.

Do you consider yourself an artist?

I make and sell art, but as far as memes go, no.

What’s the difference between a print that you make and a meme that you make?

I’m not really into the Internet. I hardly even think that photography is art. I think it’s a cop-out. When people go around taking photos of murals and selling them for 500 dollars, they sell it as theirs, but they didn’t do it. The art is the mural– or the person you’re taking the photo of, or the building, or whatever.

I hate photography. I like to sit in the park and draw.

If you successfully create and sell art, then you clearly have an eye for organizing the way that something looks. So when you design a meme and there’s messages and graphics in different places, and it all collaborates into a piece that communicates, why isn’t that art? You might say that photography is capturing what already exists, but isn’t a meme more like a collage?

I just have a personal bias against the Internet. I think the Internet is a gigantic trash can, so that’s why I don’t think about my memes very much.

Do you think the memes are sometimes too critical?


What’s your most popular meme?

One of my most popular was the Eric Andre VCU meme:


I saw it on Instagram, I saw people showing it to each other, people messaged me to ask if they could use it in school projects for whatever niche-ass thing they teach at VCU.

Is there any sense of pride associated with that?

I guess so, but I still think it’s sort of a waste of time.

I want to make something real, and I don’t think memes are really real. They get people to talk, but they don’t cause anything to happen, I don’t think I’m going to affect anything with my memes.

What is it to you that makes a meme funny?

I make stuff that I find funny and I share it without thinking.

It has to be something people are used to seeing every day and talking about it in a way that’s relatable.

If there’s something local that I want to promote, like the Byrd or WRIR, I’ll try to find something funny to say about it, hoping that people will think about it.

What’s your favorite meme format?

I like the starter pack format, because it allows me to use very specific images. I’m a detail-oriented person.

Do you get submissions?

I get 2-4 submissions a day. I rarely publish any, because most of them are just idiotic.

I get hate mail like every other day, just from random-ass people. I also get messages from businesses fairly often. That’s always interesting to me, because they have no right to tell me what to post. I get messages like, “What you’re saying is not true, and you need to take it down.”

Where do people get that anger from? Is it because people liked it? If nobody liked the memes, would people still be angry? I just wonder about the psychology of it.


I think that, in the case of business owners, they probably think that just because people like a meme, they agree. Really, I think people just find it funny that someone’s saying anything about a business at all. Because where do people say stuff like that otherwise? Yelp? I don’t know.

I frequent the places that I make fun of all the time. There’s no hate. I’ve made two memes about Rumors, and I go there almost every day. It’s all for fun.

Are you planning to make more wholesome memes in the future?

Yeah, but sometimes it doesn’t get the response of a hateful meme. You get a bigger reaction when you say you hate something.

Is there something about memes and meme pages that’s necessarily ironic?

Yeah. I feel like I have to say that I hate everything to even get people to respond. That’s where the initial popularity came from.

It’s a crazy phenomenon. People like to be angry. I like to be happy. I like to relax. I would never harbor anger.

There’s no reason to be angry— or be on the Internet.

How’s that for irony?



John Gabriel is not your everyday archaeologist.

The real estate broker from Morgantown, WV has been a Richmond resident for some fifty years, and in 1965, he had an epiphany while swimming at Pony Pasture: the cubical rock looming above had been carved by someone, sometime, for some reason. Friends thought he was kidding at first, but Gabriel was serious.

In the time since, he claims that his many discoveries support an unusual theory: 60,000 years ago, ancient homo sapiens living in the modern-day Richmond area made gigantic carvings of Arctic animals, some of which are still visible today.

From handheld frogs to 2-ton tadpoles, Gabriel has quite the collection of evidence, which he’s happy to share with the general public. These days, he spends a lot of his free time around Belle Isle and Pony Pasture, offering tours of the sculptures to river-goers and searching for more ancient artifacts.


DHR: Can you give me a synopsis of the discoveries you’ve made?

JG: Well, first things first: there are a lot of things in the James that the river did not—could not— carve.

I’ve found several multi-ton sculptures at Pony Pasture, Texas Beach, and Belle Isle. I’ve found an orca [pictured above], a walrus, multiple hawks, a tadpole, a frog, a sea turtle, a Pegasus, and a Neanderthal. I’ve also found several smaller sculptures and one square rock that the river could not have carved.

These sculptures were made by a lost civilization of ancient Ice Age Europeans.


My favorite sculpture is the female Pegasus [pictured above] with a baby horse in her marsupial pouch. You can see all her feathers, you can see her snorting the air. But if you look closely, you can also see a Neanderthal. Look at his wrist: he’s pulling another Pegasus out of the pouch, and he’s holding a twin. Does it get crazy or does it get crazy?


The detail is absolutely phenomenal.


This one [above] is at Pony Pasture; originally, I thought this was a cardinal. But I showed this to my friend who studies birds, and he told me that it’s a hawk, and I realized that the hawk puts her wings up behind her when she roosts. You can see her shoulder blades, too, and the ring on the back of her neck.

DHR: How did you make this discovery?

JG: I was at Pony Pasture one day in 1965, and I saw this square rock:

square rock

I was looking at it when suddenly, I said, “That rock didn’t get square by itself.”

After I saw the square rock, I started looking to see if there were any other interesting things around. That’s when I found a lot of small sculptures— small enough to fit in your hand. All the rocks in my collection are artifacts carved by ancient man. You can see on all of them where they carved notches on the back in order to hold them. Any time you find something in the river that’s perfectly symmetrical, you have to wonder how it got that way.

rocks (2)

These pieces of art were carved by ancient man around 60,000 years ago. Do you have any idea how many rocks I had to turn over to find this stuff?

So, I’ve been on this since 1965. But after I studied Dr. Dennis Stanford’s work, I started putting the pieces of the puzzle together.

DHR: Did you find the smaller sculptures or the bigger sculptures first?

JG: I was finding smaller sculptures for almost forty years before I found the big sculptures. Actually, when I first started trying to tell people about the lost civilization, the Smithsonian accused me of carving the small sculptures myself. That was in 1985. But when I found my first big sculpture in 2011, I finally had my proof. Nobody could say that I carved this big walrus myself:


I was so happy, I stood there and hugged it for twenty minutes and cried. All these people were standing on the edge of the bank, saying, “Look at that crazy guy hugging that rock!” But of course, they had no idea.

DHR: You mentioned Dr. Dennis Stanford. Who’s that?

JG: Dr. Stanford was the first archaeologist to publish anything about early homo sapiens making their way to this part of the world before the American tribes. If you’re interested in this kind of stuff, the first thing to do is watch the First Peoples documentary, and then do some research on Dr. Stanford.

Stanford’s hypothesis is that ancient man came across the ice shelf from Africa and Europe to Delmarva peninsula. That’s based on a technology that’s shared between sites from France to Spain to Maryland.

DHR: Do you consider yourself an archaeologist?

JG: I don’t.

I wouldn’t want to call myself an archaeologist. Archaeology is an old boys’ club. Not too long some archaeologist from the University of Virginia called me up and told me I was an embarrassment to archaeology. But he’s just mad because I found the lost civilization before he did.

For a lot of archaeologists, it’s all about the money. Take the Smithsonian. They get a billion dollars a year from the government. It’s a better idea for them to find stuff and then announce discoveries over the course of a few years, so that they keep getting steady money— and it’s a better idea for them to wait for me to die, so they can claim this discovery for themselves.

Archaeologists make a lot of assumptions that are faulty. One of the things they told us for years is that homo sapiens killed off the Neanderthal. That’s not true. We interbred with the Neanderthal. Today, most people have 1-3% Neanderthal DNA. Well, some of us might have four or five percent. (Laughs).

Think about this: why would a female homo sapiens kill off a Neanderthal? The Neanderthal was stronger than the homo sapiens, and who knows— he might even have been wiser. Imagine if a Neanderthal wandered into your camp and knew about some kind of herbal cure for your daughter, and then fought off a saber-tooth tiger. All the sudden, he’s the most popular guy there, and homo sapiens women are going to keep him around. It wasn’t about having a family with three babies back then. It was about survival.

DHR: Could these sculptures have been carved by Neanderthals?

JG: We don’t know. What we do know is that the American [Indian] tribes didn’t have time to carve sculptures in stone. The tribes in this part of country were nomadic. These sculptures would predate any documented American civilization.

DHR: How do you know when you might be looking at an ancient sculpture?

JG: Any time there is symmetry to a piece, or a place to put your fingers, you know you might have something. And keep an eye on any animals you see in the movie March of the Penguins— that movie is money. Those are the kind of animals that were living down here during that time: walruses, seals, orcas, frogs. This was an ice world 60,000 years ago, and the animal shapes that you see are mostly Arctic creatures.

DHR: For what purpose do you think the ancient people made these carvings?

JG: I have no idea. They could be decorative. They could be religious. They could be tombstones. You just don’t have all the answers, and that’s what makes it fun.

DHR: Are there some rocks in the river that aren’t carvings?

JG: I don’t know. I don’t have that answer. I would guess that there are some that are just rocks. You really have to know what you are looking for.

DHR: You give tours of your lost civilization. How often do you do them?

JG: I do them as often as I can. You can arrange one with me online. As of right now, they’re free.

DHR: Have you ever looked into selling pieces of your ancient art collection?

JG: Well, I think I’ve got about a billion dollars worth of art in my small sculpture collection. The oldest sculpture in the world is worth around $50-100 million. My sculptures are 50,000 years older, and I’ve got a bathtub full of them.


I haven’t really looked into it, though. To sell art you have to go to New York or Europe or Mumbai, India, and I don’t really want to deal with it. I like my life. I like the river. I like my friends. I go dancing on Tuesdays. What am I going to do with all that money? How many Lamborghinis do you really need?

DHR: Have you thought about talking to Levar Stoney about your discovery and getting some local attention?

JG: I’ve tried to talk to the mayor before, and he wants nothing to do with my lost civilization. You know why that is?

He can’t profit from a monument that’s already here. If you’re a politician, you want to build a new monument, so you can steal from the designer, the architect, and the construction worker. You can’t steal from a lost civilization.

DHR: Last question. Do you ever get people that say you’re just crazy?

JG: The archaeologists and anthropologists will not even stop to talk. And I say, “Damn, if you’re an archaeologist, why don’t you come teach me something?”

I was talking to this lady on Saturday that worked for the Smithsonian, and she didn’t even know Dr. Stanford. She was saying, “How do you know this, this, this—?” and she was really negative right from the get-go. When that happens, I just go through the steps and explain my discoveries very slowly. I don’t talk about anything that I haven’t studied.

Sometimes you’ll be giving a presentation and you’ll get some weirdo that comes by and completely takes you and says, “Horses got here in the 1500s, so that proves that this couldn’t be 60,000 years old,” and then he takes off running.

Uh, it’s not a horse, it’s a Pegasus. The Neanderthal could have come over on a boat, but if you look at that carving, the Neanderthal might have been able to fly anywhere he wanted to. The thing is, at the end of the day, nobody really has the answers.


At 28, Mechanicsville native Ali Thibodeau has already been through quite a musical journey. But in her eyes, she’s only just getting started.

The indie singer will be opening for Lucy Dacus on June 28 at Friday Cheers on Brown’s Island, but to Thibodeau, the Richmond icon is more than a fellow performer— she’s a childhood friend. There’s something reminiscent of Dacus in Thibodeau’s live performances, but she also brings an energy of her own earned busking in subways, traveling Europe in a camper van, and touring the Southeast and Midwest.

Her stage name is Deau Eyes, and she’s got an independent album coming soon, preceded by the single Paper Stickers, available now on Spotify. After a dynamic performance at the Valentine on June 6, I caught up with Thibodeau, and we had a chance to talk about her upcoming album, where she’s been, and her philosophy of experiencing as many mutual life-giving moments as possible.

deau eyes.PNG

DHR: So, you’re from Richmond— what part of Richmond are you originally from?

AT: I’m from Mechanicsville I went to Lee Davis High School.

DHR: How did you get started in the music industry?

AT: I’ve been writing songs since I was about fourteen. I’d always done it in my room as a kind of therapy.

Earlier in life, I was more into dance and musical theater. I moved to New York City to pursue that. I was living the classic New York City grind—  theater auditions every day.

I decided I was tired of that intense, constant rejection. New York is a huge, humbling place, and it’s cool to be a small cog in the machine of people working to find their place as an artist. I’d find myself starting to write while I was in audition waiting rooms, and dreaming about songs, and I finally got the courage to take my guitar to open mics.

Then I started busking in the subway stations. The reason I was able to start playing guitar in front of people is because, in New York, you’re playing in front of people that you’ll never see again. A lot of times I would get on the subway, and I’d ask everybody, “Hey, do you mind if I practice?” And they’d be like, “What? Of course you can practice.” And I’d play and watch them fall asleep on their way home from work. A lot of times people would tip me and say, “I really needed a good nap.”

DHR: Where did you go from there?

AT: Lucy Dacus and I are childhood friends, and every time I’d come to Richmond, I’d check in with her and get coffee. Around that time, she was starting to turn music into a career here. She said, “You know, you could do the same thing you’re doing in New York, but in Richmond, and it would be a lot easier to survive.” After months and months of her reiterating that “I’m playing all the time, and you could totally do it”— I decided to make the move.

I’ve been here just grinding away. I worked on a cruise ship as a country singer for a while, and I wrote songs on the cruise ship, intending to produce them into an album.

Something that really changed things for me was this show we used to do called the Nine Singer Songwriter Showcase at the Tin Pan. That’s where I met Hannah Goad, who’s my musical partner in crime, and Angelica Garcia, who I could say the same thing about. We created a band called Whatever Honey and played our songs as a trio.

The Nine was this event where you showed up with a new song and nine songwriters would contribute what they want to contribute. It all happened on the same day. So you don’t really know each other, and you’ve got an hour to figure out everyone’s songs and contribute your piece. Besides Hannah and Angelica, the Nine also introduced me to Landon Elliott, Eliza Whitmire, Erin Frye, Kielan Creech basically my friend group in Richmond.

That sucked me into the Richmond music community. It’s such a rich scene, and people are so willing to collaborate. In New York, everyone is on a “time is money” clock.

DHR: Is the slower pace more productive?

AT: It is more productive for me personally. I can easily get swept up in a million different directions and work a ton of weird jobs and get lost in the moment. I’m a Gemini my extrovert takes over.

I’m grateful that I happen to be from Richmond, because otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have known about it. I’m still finding all the different directions, but my main focus is getting a band together and getting my album out.

DHR: So there’s an album on the way?

AT: Yes— I just recorded an album in Nashville.

DHR: Is the music on the album comparable to that kind of punk/indie sound on the single Paper Stickers?

AT: I like to call the music on the album a sonic adventure. You’ll definitely hear more of that on a couple different tracks, but there’s also a fusion of soul, folk, country, et cetera.

DHR: Music from Nashville is a little greasier— I think of indie as a cleaner sound.

AT: The album is pretty clean, but it gets weird, and I like it when things get weird.

I’m really excited about the record, and there are some announcements moving forward that I’m holding tight on.

It takes a good foundation to put a record out, especially when you’re proud of it and you want it to do well.

DHR: How long were you recording in Nashville?

AT: It was two days of recording.

I also did some of the overdubs and harmonies in my bedroom. That aspect captures a little bit of intimacy. There’s a track smack-dab in the middle of the album that is completely stripped down, just me in my bedroom. I wanted a flavor of where I’ve been.

DHR: What kind of music did you listen to growing up?

AT: I grew up listening to so many different styles, because my mom owned a dance studio, so she had everything you could possibly imagine. Pop music, country, soul, mo-town, rock, singer-songwriter. So many female singer-songwriters Jewel, Alanis Morissette, Sara McGlothlin.

DHR: Who would you consider the biggest influences musical influences from that starting place?

AT: Depending on the day, I have a different answer. I listened to a lot of Jewel back then. I also listened to a lot of Dolly Parton, Spice Girls, Destiny’s Child those kind of empowering girl power groups. At the same time, my older brother was introducing me to Radiohead, Modest Mouse, Death Cab for Cutie, Weezer, et cetera. My favorite bands are Dr. Dog and Bradi Carlile, and Joni Mitchell was crucial to my artistic development, too.

In my own music, I’m someone who likes abstract art and modern dance. I like things to be a little off-skew. I don’t really follow the beaten path. Things get a little wavy.

DHR: What’s the story behind the name Deau Eyes?

AT: Well, obviously, my last name is Thibodeau. I was singing back-up vocals for Lucy when I was in Whatever Honey, and I remember during one show at the National, I was saying, “I need a new name, nobody can spell mine, and it’s getting to be such a pain to explain on the microphone.”

And then, separate to that conversation, Lucy looked at me and said, “Look at you with your doe eyes!” And Hannah, who’s always picking up on puns, was like, “Haha, that’s funny.” And I was like, “Wow that’s a great stage name.”


DHR: You’ve been on tour in the States— what was that like?

AT: On my first tour, I did a southern route from New Orleans back to Richmond, with a lot of stops in between. That was a crazy awesome life experience. We were in a van that had no air conditioning and no radio. You had to open the hood and turn off the engine from the inside. We camped everywhere we went. It was the middle of the summer and we were hot and sweaty. It was grungy.

Last year, I opened for Lucy on a few dates in the Midwest. We still managed to camp a few nights I love camping— but we stayed a lot of AirBnBs and we upgraded our van to an SUV.

Now I’m doing a lot of solo touring. Any chance I have, I make a quick run up and down. I’ve made six or seven round trips.

DHR: Have you ever toured in Europe?

AT: I’ve never toured in Europe, but I’ve done a lot of open mics in Europe. I went there in 2014 with a couple hundred bucks and no return ticket, and I traveled around in a camper van, so I was doing open mics and busking wherever I could for a little extra money.

DHR: You’ve got a tattoo that says Dégagé— could you talk a bit about what that means?

AT: It means, “Make the best of what you have.”

I went to Haiti in 2013 and did a little service work there, and the people would say that to each other a lot. It’s also a dance term which means to disengage. Plus, someone recently told me that it means “fuck off” in French. (Laughs).

I never thought I’d get a tattoo, but the day that Donald Trump said that Haiti was a shithole country, I kind of meditated on my experience in Haiti for a while, and how resilient the people of Haiti are, and then I took a moment to actively respect them while getting this tattoo.

The Haitian people shared a lot of joy with us as well. It was a mutually life-giving experience. I in no way feel like I saved anyone, but I think we had a sense of bliss together in the moments that we shared.

DHR: Some might call that a form of salvation.

AT: I think that’s what life’s all about: sharing a mutual life-giving experience.

It’s important to have those in a world that seems divided. Having an experience through music, dance, art, or anything that brings you together is crucial. I feel very lucky that that’s part of my job.

DHR: What’s the coolest mutual life-giving experience that you’ve had while playing?

AT: Any time you have a large group of people around a cause, it’s a mutual life-giving experience. This Friday Cheers show is going to be like that.

I’m just as much a fan as I am a performer. I like to geek out about stuff, because it inspires me to make more things to geek out on.

DHR: When you play live music, you take over the vibe in a visual and aural way. It’s a mutual experience, because you’re getting love from the fans, but you’re the creator.

AT: It’s less about love from the fans and more about the fact that you’re creating something you hope will become someone else’s song. My goal is that I’ll share this song with you and you’ll make it yours.

Like this: what’s your favorite book?

DHR: Portrait of the Artist of a Young Man.

AT: James Joyce has no idea who you are. He’s dead. But that’s your book. You’ve imprinted your own experiences onto it.

I cannot wait for my songs to be other people’s songs. I can’t freaking wait.

I’ve had to learn to stay true to myself. That’s why I want this album to come out.

DHR: Have you felt the pressure yet to market yourself?

AT: Um, yeah. (Laughs).

DHR: Have you bitten the apple, so to speak?

AT: You have to market yourself, but you have to be true to yourself.

Well, I say that, but what do I know?

There are literally no rules. There is literally no wrong way to do it.

You don’t have someone over your shoulder telling you how to market yourself. There’s a freedom in marketing yourself in your own way.

I’ve had advice and help from so many generous people, but when someone says, “You need to market yourself this way,” or “You need to wear this,” or “You need to be pigeonholed into this punk track, or this country track” I have no interest in that sort of thing, because at the end of the day, all that you have is you. The people that want you to be something else aren’t necessarily going to be there.

Writing songs has been a therapeutic safe haven for me my whole life. That’s a sacred space. You have to figure out how to present that to the world, of course, but you can do it in your own way.

I know that I’m going to evolve a lot. I mean, everyone will. (Laughs). But the music industry is changing a lot. There’s nothing you can really latch on to. My hope is that if I just stay honest and open and malleable, I’ll be able to keep doing this.

DHR: So, if I were to say, do you have any idea what the future holds, you would say…

AT: It’s going to be a wild adventure.


I met Alexa Buchin at Lamplighter on Addison.

I’d seen her artwork on her Instagram, alexalynnartthings. Drawn in first by the metamorphic shapes and earth tones in her pour paintings, I wound up in a face-melting web of abstraction.

There are a lot of ways to describe her style: there are elements of cubism, realism, and impressionism. Perhaps the most striking feature is her skillful use of line quality. But her best pieces communicate the line she doesn’t draw, between the dueling forces of individualism and unity.


How long have you been taking art seriously?

I decided I wanted to go to art school at the end of high school. I’d taken art classes from elementary school all the way through.

Going to high school in Richmond, we were able to go to so many galleries around the city and see the art scene in Richmond. I was like, “This is really cool; I could see myself doing that.”

At VCU, I did art education. I didn’t really see myself as a gallery artist, and I didn’t want art to be my only source of income. I also feel like lots of artists spend a lot of time making work on their own, and I wanted to have more of a community at work.

Are you an art teacher now?

Going into school, I was interested in art therapy, and I minored in psychology.

About halfway through college, I started working with a guy with autism on the weekends— I was one of his caregivers. I also had some special education classes with art. I really liked both of those experiences, and I realized I didn’t want to just be a teacher at a public school, but I specifically wanted to work with people with special needs.

It was kind of hard to find a job for those things together. At most schools, the regular resource teacher teaches the special education class. So I’ve been a teaching assistant at the Faison Center for Autism for the past year and a half, but I’ve done some art projects with the kids that I work with, and I’m going back to school in the fall for rehabilitation counseling.

What are the principles behind Art Therapy? Creativity enhances quality of life?

Well, there’s a difference between art therapy and therapeutic art. Art therapy is a specific practice where art is used to diagnose someone who can’t communicate well otherwise. I’m more interested now in artmaking as a therapeutic process.

Art can increase resilience and communication skills, and benefit a lot of other mental health areas. I started to get interested in that in high school. The last few art classes I took were very independent, and I definitely used art as a therapeutic outlet, and made art about things that I was dealing with, in a representational way. Especially working with kids who don’t have those introspective skills yet, it’s easier to communicate visually.

When you’re making your own art, what’s your preferred medium?

I like drawing, painting, and printmaking a lot.

I did a lot of painting in college, and I like oil painting a lot. It’s not that practical, because I don’t have a real studio space. I probably shouldn’t use oil paints in my apartment, because it’s kind of toxic, but I still do sometimes anyway. (Laughs).

Printmaking is good if you’re looking to sell a lot of work, because you can make a lot of copies of the same thing. It’s more cost-effective than if you just have this one big oil painting.


Can you walk me through the process of creating a piece?

I’ve been thinking recently about how you make art for different reasons in different stages of your life. In high school, it was more of a personal process. In college, I started challenging myself to work in different mediums and try new things.

In college, you make a work of art, and you’re going to have a critique on it, and then get a grade. When I got a prompt I would think about how I could try something new and make it unique and personal.

Now, it’s hard, because I’m not making art for a class, so the purpose has changed. I also don’t have as much time to devote to art. So when I do make art, it comes from different sources.

Last summer, there was an awareness walk for Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, which I have. Their icon is a zebra, so my mom asked me if I could do a painting of a zebra for the auction. That’s an example where I had a direct purpose that I cared a lot about and I was able to do what I wanted with it. I wasn’t doing it as a commission, so I could do it in my own style, but I knew where it was going, so it was more like having a prompt.

I have a hard time getting excited about art if it’s not something that I’m interested in, so I’ve been looking for more specific projects like that.


When you’re creating a piece and you get an idea, do you sketch something out right away?

Inspiration comes at random times. I’ll find myself having ideas when I’m going to bed, and I’ll write them down on my phone. I’ll also look up pictures online and on Instagram and try to find some pieces for inspiration. Once I’ve planned out in my head how I want it to look, I’ll sketch it out.

Some projects are more straightforward than others. When I painted the zebra, it was like, “Okay, I’m going to paint a zebra.” With other things that are more conceptual and abstract, I’ll often look at other peoples’ art and try to pull some of those pieces together into something new.


Do you ever just freely start painting and see where it goes?

Not as much anymore. Since art isn’t my main source of income, and since I live in a small studio apartment, I’ve become very aware of the art that I already have, and it’s hard to justify making something just for fun.

If I’m going to spend a certain amount of time and money on making a piece, and I’ve already got a lot of ideas, I usually work with a purpose.

I did go to an open figure drawing session at the Visual Art Center, and that was nice, because I was able to just draw. Later on, I was adding to it while doodling on my couch watching TV, and it turned into something really cool. But that was just paper and marker, so there wasn’t a lot of materials to buy or things to set up.

Who would you say is your biggest artistic influence?

There was one artist I found in high school that I still follow named Andrew Salgado. He does figure and portrait work, but makes it more abstract. When I do more realistic things, like the zebra portrait, I like to have an abstract background, and mix realism with abstraction.

Andrew Salgado is very technically impressive, but he adds a lot of abstract brushstrokes and color.

I think if you’re going to paint something completely realistically, you may as well have just taken a picture. Paint on its own is so beautiful, and can do really cool things, and if you’re just manipulating it to look like something else, it’s not as interesting.

Do you have a favorite classical artist?

I like cubism. I like Picasso. He was one of the first ones to branch off from more realistic things.

I also like the surrealist movement. In high school, Dali was an inspiration— sort of creating these things that look sort of realistic, but are representing something that’s going on in my head.

How would you describe your own style?

A combination of realism and abstraction. I focus a lot on people and nature as subject matter. I try to represent something without just drawing it realistically, but I’m most interested in natural things.

I never really liked drawing still lifes. I’m more interested in movement and organic shapes.

What message do you try to communicate with your pieces?

In high school, I was communicating more personal things, like a self-narrative.

Now, I focus on images that a lot of different people can relate to. I think a lot about how interesting everyone is as an individual. So some of my pieces blend faces together and emphasize that everyone is different, but also connected.


A celebration of individualism, but all individuals are a part of one entity.


Especially with the work that I do, I want to focus on connection. Connecting to other people is helpful to both you and the person to whom you’re connecting.

People in our generation are a little bit more independent, and I’m more interested in communities working together. That’s how we evolved originally.


What’s your favorite piece that you’ve ever created?

I really like this piece, Collection in Fragments:


I made this when I was student-teaching as an example of a mosaic. Some of the pieces are glass that I painted on, and some of the pieces are found glass objects that I broke and put together.

It’s the same kind of idea with human figures both broken and stuck together– how people fit together in different ways.

This is a hard medium to work with, and I always think it’s cool to try new mediums and see how I can bring my style and interests to them.

It does seem like a good medium for your theme.

That’s why I like using more sculptural things, because you can get a lot of conceptual stuff out of the materials that you’re using. If I’m talking about how different people are broken and pieced together, this is literally a representation of that. You can paint something that looks like this, but I think it’s more interesting to actually use those materials.

Is there such thing as a truly original piece of art?


There’s a saying: “A good artist borrows, a great artist steals.”

Everything that you do all the time is influenced by everything around you. There’s no way to put yourself in a box and not be influenced.

One of the best ways to make something more original is to put yourself into it, because we’ve all had different experiences. The most original thing about you is you.

What’s more important, originality or execution?

If both of those things were isolated, I would say originality.

I don’t want to get sucked into the hole of making something just because I know people will like it and want to buy it. I want to put my own ideas into it, even if I’m not sure someone else will want to buy it. If you’re just making things and executing without a personal touch, there’s a lot of things like that out there already, and I don’t see a point to making more of them.

If I’m going to be making work, I want it to be different, and that gives me a purpose.

Is it possible to create bad art?

Yeah. It’s all just very subjective to what someone likes or what someone is trying to do.

I think to me, the things that I don’t like as much are things that I’ve seen before. So to me, bad art would be something that isn’t giving me anything new to look at or think about.

Would you say that art is a talent or a skill?

Both. When people compliment my art and say, “Oh, I could never do that,” my response is that all you have to do is practice.

There are people that have a more natural inclination towards things, just like with sports. You can work as hard as you want, but some people will always have an edge.

But I try to emphasize art as a skill you can practice. I practiced a lot when I was younger. What got me into it in the first place was a little bit of that natural talent, but then I just kept doing it. You can teach someone, but so much of improving is doing it over and over again. You can’t jump from being a beginner to a master in a week.

Can anybody develop those skills?

I think so, especially for more technical art where you’re drawing something realistically.

I did a portrait camp with Stanley Rayfield once, who does incredibly realistic paintings, and he didn’t begin drawing until he was in high school, and he just taught himself.

Where is your art up now?

I had art up in April at 68 Home on Broad, but I’ll have art up at the Urban Farmhouse in Scott’s Addition through May. In the past, I’ve had work at Art 180, and I’ve done an event at 1708 Gallery.

I’ve been reaching out to restaurants and galleries that have a featured artist every month. I have so much art sitting in my apartment! Even if nobody’s buying it, I’d rather it be up on a wall somewhere where people can appreciate it.


A writer, a singer, a rapper, a poet; a dancer, an organist, a comedian.

It’s like one of those pattern questions from the college entrance exam. Up next…a fisherman?

But Captain Mike Ostrander, who joined the 21 Questions series this month, is an artist in his own right. There’s the art of catching fish; the art of teaching; and most importantly, the art of blending oneself to the natural world.

Ostrander, 54, is a James River Fishing Guide known for his exploratory program, Discover the James. And as he might say of a bald eagle or a flathead catfish— he’s part of the ecosystem. One time, I saw him on a misty morning at Dutch Gap, when he wasn’t even working. He paddled by, pointed me in the direction of the best blue cat hole, handed me a few slabs of shad, and disappeared before I could say hello.

He also once took a ten-day canoe float from the headwaters of the James River. At that rate, he may surpass the Goatman of Williams Island as the greatest James River legend.

DHR: How long have you been doing Discover the James?

MO: Discover the James started in 2001 as the James River Fishing School. I started out doing guided fishing trips and fishing instruction for parents and their kids. By 2004, I was doing full-time fishing.

Since then, I’ve been doing blue and flathead catfish trips. In 2009, I added some history and wildlife tours, and changed the name to Discover the James. And that’s exactly what it is: people enjoying and sharing the incredible beauty and history of the James River.

DHR: How did you wind up as a fishing guide in the first place?

MO: I’ve got a passion for fishing. Basically, I’m just a fisherman with an art degree.

You’ve got to be creative and work hard to survive on the river, which is where I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to be.

DHR: Did you start out doing volunteer work?

MO: Yeah, I started out as a volunteer fishing instructor for the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries in the 1990s. After a while, I moved into a position where I was teaching other people how to teach other people.

One day, a buddy of mine asked me what I wanted to do with my life, and I said, “Well, I’d really like to be a professional fishing guide.” And my buddy said, “Well, why can’t you?”

It was a few days later that “James River Fishing School” popped into my head. I remember it like it was yesterday. That was when it took off.

DHR: What is a normal day like at Discover the James?

MO: It depends. Sometimes I’m on the water at 4 am catching shad for a catfish trip. Catfish trips start at 7 am. We’ll fish and discover the river until 3 pm, oftentimes a little longer. Then it’s back to the Richmond Yacht Basin, where I dock the boat, thank everyone, get a few laughs in, and see everyone off.

Then I work on the boat, usually for about 45 minutes or so. I get the fishing gear in top shape, change leaders, sharpen hooks. There’s a lot that happens in the morning, too– making sure everything is in top shape for the day.

DHR: What’s your favorite trip to take with Discover the James? Bald eagle observation, catfish, Civil War?

MO: Honestly, man, I love them all.

DHR: What’s your favorite part of the job?

MO: Being on the boat, working with people— and of course, watching the sunrise.

DHR: Did studying art help you appreciate the natural beauty of the James River?

MO: I studied art because I couldn’t pass biology. [Laughs].

I went to school to be a marine biologist, but I didn’t enjoy the workload needed to succeed in a field like marine bio. I always loved art, and I got a B in it my first semester, so I went that direction.

DHR: Was there a particular field of art you were drawn to while you were studying?

MO: I was mostly studying photography. I was good with shape, framing, color. But now, I’m starting to get really into pastels. I’ve got a few pastel pieces on the Discover the James website. I’ve always loved doing it, and now I feel like I’m at the point where I’d like to try selling them.

captain mike art.PNG
Entrance to Jefferson’s Reach, pastel

DHR: Alright, so, even though you’re a literal river guide, I feel like your strongest street cred— river cred— might come from the James River float I read about on the website. Ten days, is that right? Could you tell me a little about that?

MO: Yeah, so, I canoed down the James for ten days, with a great friend of mine, Warren Foster. Warren was undoubtedly the best person I could have ever traveled with for those ten days.

We lived off the fish we caught, and breakfast bars, coffee, and water. And, of course, if we could find someplace we could stash our canoe, we walked to any place that carried bread, lunch meat, and beer.

DHR: Did you boil water?

MO: Yeah, we boiled water and smoked fish every night but the first. We used to sit by the fire and eat smallmouth bass and catfish and redeyes, and we’d look at each other and think we were living like kings. It was awesome. So many memorable events.

We started at the headwaters, where the Cowpasture and Jackson meet, and we made it to Bremo Bluff. Somewhere around 200 miles.

DHR: Did you have to portage your canoe?

MO: Only once I can think ofwe met someone before the Seven Dams in Lynchburg, who brought us from one end to the other.

DHR: What was the strangest thing that happened to you along the way?

MO: One day, these juvenile otters came up to us, and all three popped up and down next to the canoe as we floated. We didn’t paddle we just watched as they individually, and sometimes simultaneously, would pop their heads up out of the river. They would look right at us. As one would go down, another would pop up. It was incredibly coordinated. Three minutes or so they did this, and eventually they got bored and left. I see them swimming away right now like it was last weekend.

DHR: What was the hardest part of the trip?

MO: Leaving Bremo Bluff. We were planning to make it to Richmond, but I threw out my back, and Warren convinced me that we needed to get off the water. I’ll tell you, as hard as those last seven miles were to paddle, it was nowhere near as hard as it was to leave.

DHR: Were there any moments that were particularly transcendent?

MO: Tons.

Early morning, late evenings…. The sounds of screech owls sounding like people in the woods, laughing.

When we put in, we were about a mile downriver from the point where the two rivers come together to create the James. We paddled upriver as far as we could, put the canoe on shore, and walked the rest of the way, so we could really start at the headwaters.

I was casting a senko worm all the way across the river, hitting little eddies in grass beds on the other shore, and literally catching smallmouth on every cast. We got to the headwater, waded back to the canoe, got in, and started to paddle. I remember that moment, and thinking, “Wow, I’m heading back to Richmond.”

DHR: Was that always a plan of yours, or sort of a trip that came together?

MO: It started between me and Warren over a game of horseshoes. We talked about it for about four years. After a while it was like, “Man, we could actually do this.” I’d say almost all of the preparation for that trip came over the horseshoe pit.

DHR: What are your favorite kinds of fish to catch?

MO: Live ones. [Laughs].

It changes all the time. Right now, I’m just dying to catch a trout, so tomorrow, that’s what I’ll be looking for. Next weekend, when the weather is perfect for smallmouth, I’ll be hoping for a smallmouth.

I will say that I like to fish in moving water. One day, I wrote down my ten favorite places to fish, and I think nine of them were rivers or streams. There’s just something about being able to get in, get your feet wet, turn over the pebbles under your feet. It’s just awesome, man.

DHR: Alright, last question. Do you know anything about the Goatman, who supposedly lives on Williams Island?

MO: I think I’ve seen him twice. Once in the shape of a white-tailed deer and once in the shape of an otter.

Come on one of the tours, and maybe I’ll tell you more about him.