As an Art Tutor working in Britain’s jails, Steven Tafka’s job was to teach the supposedly unteachable.
The longer he did the job, the more it seemed like it was him that was serving a sentence. Writing this darkly comic book gave him a release and helped him to survive.
From the initial job interview, ‘The Art of Crime’ charts the journey of a rookie prison art tutor from idealism to the depths of the prison underworld.
Written in diary form it details the tragi-comic, often absurd daily experiences of trying to help prisoners to achieve a qualification against all the odds.
Tafka had to discover the art of teaching watercolours to violent gangsters and introduce murderers to Monet.
He finds himself doing swimming pool designs for an armed robber and trying to keep order in a classroom where one of the learners thinks he is Picasso Peppa Pig. And all this is happening as he is having to count the latex gloves in and out (so the prisoners can’t smoke them) and watch out for illicit hooch brewing behind the classroom radiators.
This book gives a rodents-and-all insight into the dysfunctionality of prison life, the often-abject conditions, but more importantly the power of art to transform lives. There is an undoubted fascination with the art prisoners make, because it has something to tell us about the human condition and this book reveals the characters behind it.