As a consummate entrepreneur, DJ managed to turn a profit making trinkets and baubles whose only real appeal was in their uniqueness. All of his toilet paper flowers and decorative pillows were quite beautiful, but beyond that they had no practical value whatsoever. While DJ recognized that he had a lucrative business in place, and he certainly enjoyed spending/eating the profits, he was also perfectly aware of how ephemeral and ultimately useless his products were. This knowledge eventually led to a degree of dissatisfaction on his part, which was only countered when he had the opportunity to call upon his master craftsman capabilities.
Both skill and talent were certainly required for creating DJ’s pretty presents, but he was capable of so much more. When he could get his hands on the proper materials, he excelled. His passion projects were tediously time-consuming, but he reveled in the real artistry and true craftsmanship of them.
A pair of old leather boots, which had been discarded as trash, were gold to DJ. He would take a razorblade that he had removed from its plastic disposable casing and use that to slice the leather into pieces and strips appropriate for the works he intended to create. To prepare the tough leather, he would rub Vaseline into it everyday for as many days as it took until it was soft and supple.
Once the leather was ready for his nimble fingers, DJ would commence to crimping and folding the edges, manipulating them and preparing them to receive his stitches. I have no earthly idea where he procured the nylon string that he used to sew his material, nor what he used to dye the white nylon black so that it matched the boot leather. He fashioned his pieces into bifold wallets that could be sent home as gifts by inmates or a more simple holder designed to carry an Inmate ID Card.
The latter was also seen as some kind of silly status symbol. Wristwatch bands were his other specialty and when he was finished, his products looked as professionally produced as anything on display for sale at a retail store. As a sewer myself, I marveled at the tiny stitches and how intricate yet uniform he managed to keep them.
Since wristwatches are prominently displayed on one’s wrist (go figure), they are also something of a status symbol in prison. The watches generally cost about ten to twelve dollars, so it doesn’t really make sense, but that’s how it is, and most guys like to trade up the factory watchband for a prison-made replacement. DJ’s leather bands sold well and lasted for many years, but leather can be hard to some by. Shoelaces, on the other hand, are routinely thrown away, or else are available for purchase in commissary. DJ would deftly slip the outer cloth covering from the rounded shoelace, leaving behind a braided rope. The liberated material he would flatten and, using those astonishingly subtle stitches, he’d sew the two strips into a band approximately three quarters of an inch wide. Using durable plastic pieces that he scrounged from somewhere and Velcro he’d sliced from shower curtains, DJ formed a clasp for these original works of prison art. For an additional fee, using brilliantly colored thread, he could stitch a person’s initials into the band to distinguish it from others of its ilk.
Witnessing DJ’s finished masterpieces, I couldn’t help but be supremely impressed by his enormous skill. There was, however, also a touch of wistful sadness to my impression, as I couldn’t help but wonder why his talent and clockwork intellect were being squandered, locked behind prison walls.