Artist Statement

John Zoccoli, MPS

Artist Biography

My artwork expresses the parts of me that I find difficult to articulate in any other way. Discovering this talent has not only provided me with an outlet to express myself, it has given me an identity. The gift of my innate talent in art is a blessing, and I have worked hard to develop my natural ability into a skill, one that I am proud of. My art has opened many doors for me, metaphorically, and actually. Art has allowed me a safe space to deal with the various traumas I have endured and allowed me to transform my pain into beauty. I have touched the lives of many with my art (using it to give back to loved ones, various life affirming organizations, and more). This gives me a sense of fulfillment like no other and offers me the opportunity to transcend the limitations of being a prison inmate. When people view my art, they do not judge me by the worst thing that I ever did. Through my art, others see the real me—not the stereotypes and stigmas attached to being in prison. Through my art, I can inspire others, touch their hearts, raise money for organizations, and, in a small way, make the world a more beautiful place. I was arrested as a teenager , in 1995, and subsequently sentenced to 25-to-life. Adjusting to living out a sentence that was longer than the life I had lived was difficult. I struggled to find my way. The harm I caused others and my family left an emptiness inside of me. Although I knew I could not undo what was already done, I decided that I could not continue down a path of negativity, or allow prison define me.

Making a choice to be a light in a dark place, my transformation began with art. Through creating art, I not only found a way to express myself, I discovered my calling in life--my purpose. I realized that, far from the thugs and gangsters I had idolized as a teen, I was an artist.

While I have always had a natural ability in art, my art would not have the depth and meaning it has without education. In 2006, I earned a Certificate in Ministry and Human Services from the CMHS program sponsored by Rising Hope, I earned my BA with a focus in Mathematics from Bard College (class of 2015) and a MPS from New York Theological Seminary (class of 2017). Currently, I am learning the world of digital media and loving the possibilities it offers.

I have won several awards for my art. I've had work featured on the cover of the Bardian Magazine. I have created cover art for many books including illustrations for Out of the Wilderness, as well as all of the illustrations for my self-help book Believe in Yourself: Building a Better You Through Accomplishing Goals. At this stage in my life, I am dedicating much of my time and talent to various life affirming organizations, teaching others, and doing my best to "be the change I want to see in the world."