“I would sign up for art classes just to smuggle the paint back to my cell”
Artist Elizabeth Mikotowicz was nearly beaten to death while being pregnant, addicted to drugs by the medical system, then sent to prison where she was regularly humiliated and treated as a slave. In this explosive interview, for the first time ever, Elizabeth shares her phenomenal life story with The World Art News! It is an emotional, at times horrific, and unquestionably inspiring account of one woman’s survival against all odds.
Art in prison. What did you paint and how often were you permitted to do so? What effect did art have on you while you were incarcerated? What was your style back then and were you trying to convey anything through your paintings at that time? As an artist, how would you describe that period of your life?
In the county jail my mother started sending me Zentangle books, it’s a kind of meditative art that I really started to enjoy. My children had been doing it at her house as well. I first painted murals in the Somerset County, they had me paint these replicas of a quilt that had all the towns in that county in every square. I was let out of the women’s pod after lockdown to paint in the hallways for a few hours. When I went to prison, I painted as a side hustle to make extra money for things I needed. I would mostly paint coffee cups and personalize them, it was nice to be able to give these women a piece of their identity and individuality back even if it was something as simple as a cup.
I’d sand the cup, paint it, then get floor wax from the girls in Maintenance and coat it so the paint wouldn’t come off when they washed it. I painted portraits and I used the back of notebooks for canvas because I didn’t have anything else. I worked in the rec building where I would sign up for art classes just to smuggle the paint back to my cell, I got raided once at Alderson and once at Danbury and had my paints taken from me. The women were so supportive, I wasn’t even out of trouble yet and they were making plans on how to get all my paints back for me. By the end of the week, I had more colors than what was taken and I even had silver and gold.
When I got to Danbury the case manager wanted to transform the prison from white walls into something beautiful. She wanted me to paint murals the length of the main hallway. I was only allowed to use this vibrant blue, white and black for shading. She didn’t care what I painted as long as it looked beautiful. In between my murals were inspiring quotes. I was paid 58$ a month which was one of the highest paying prison jobs. I could pick my own hours and listen to music and paint on their walls.
Just like Pablo Picasso had his blue period when he was living in poverty and struggling, I had my own blue period in prison when I was going through my own struggles. The only difference was I didn’t have a choice in the matter, but I was so grateful to be doing something I love and that brought me peace I didn’t care. I wanted to paint something on the prison walls that reminded the women of the beauty outside of this place and their inner strength.
“I wanted to paint something on the prison walls that reminded women of the beauty outside”
Can you describe how you felt when you took that first step outside, and how you and your art changed once you were released from prison?
It was absolutely terrifying. When you are in prison the lack of stimulation especially in solitary slows your brain down, and any kind of real stimulation is usually violent chaos; it literally makes everything overwhelming. Just being in a car it felt like we were going 100mph. It’s exciting and amazing and you can’t wait to see your family but it takes its toll.
“It was absolutely terrifying”
When I came home, I slept on a cot in my son’s room and I’d wake up screaming. It’s very strange when you get out, everything feels off and you don’t really know what to do and you’re so scared of going back. Being around men is strange when the only ones you’ve been around for years are cops, lawyers, and jail staff that won’t hesitate to hurt you or make your life a lot harder. I remember trying to pick out toothpaste and I was so overwhelmed by all the different choices.
I never know what I’m going to paint, I like to paint spiritually enlightening things, then I love to go on the polar opposite end and express the dark demonic side of life. I’ve done a few politically motivated paintings since I’ve been out to show what this ‘land of the free’ is really about.
Many of our readers will be very interested to learn how you managed to rebuild your life from scratch and become a prospering artist as well as an owner of an environmentally friendly women’s clothing brand?
I had to get my trauma under control before I tackled anything else. You can treat symptoms but if you never face the cause, you won’t get better. I was lucky Janet Mills changed Mainecare when she became Maine’s Governor so people could now get health insurance. I was able to get MAT treatment and med management while going to counseling and having access to medical care made all the difference in the world. I didn’t do well on probation, every time I left my house, I’d have a panic attack and I couldn’t stay clean. It also didn’t help that when I was on probation, I got out with $1300 worth of psych meds the prison had me on that I had no way of paying for. So, I detoxed off these psych meds; Lithium was one of them which can stop your heart if you stop taking it, and I spiraled. I put myself in trauma therapy, I did a lot of shadow work and I stayed away from all my old friends.
You can’t be around people that are doing drugs if you want to stay clean, you will fail every time. The lithium I was on stopped working about 3 months after I got out, but I didn’t realize it until months later; I assumed I was dealing with PTSD. I couldn’t get my levels right and it got really scary until I got completely off of it. Now, 5 years later, I’m completely off MAT treatment and every medication the prison had me on and have maintained sobriety and done things I’m proud of.
“I had to get my trauma under control before I tackled anything else”
During the pandemic I had my first art show at one of the local downtown shops during addiction awareness month in September. Then I joined the Bangor Art Society and started doing shows with them. I also won a writing contest two years in a row and got my poetry published both times. Then I found a company that takes artist paintings and transforms them into a feminine clothing line that is environmentally friendly and inclusive to all body types. I had to rebuild myself and my life and find a way to overcome my trauma that was affecting my everyday life to the point I couldn’t function like a normal person. I hope when people put EPM Clothing on they feel so stunning and empowered they could walk through hell and bring the devil to his knees.
What would you like to say to women who are struggling in life right now?
You are stronger than you know! We live in a society that oppresses all of us, the BIPOC community far worse. I found so much strength and compassion in the women I was in prison with, which is the last thing I expected. Our patriarchal society wants you to believe that you are the weaker sex; physically, in most cases yes you are. I have seen the resilience and unmatched strength of women and once we realize it as a collective the patriarchy will crumble.
Our favorite quote in my group of friends was “Women are like tea bags – you never know how strong they are until you put them in hot water!” So have your moment! Scream, cry, throw your fit and get it out; then get back up and straighten your crown! We all have a lot of work to do, not just for ourselves but for everyone being kept down. When I thought my life was over it turned out to be the beginning. Sometimes awful things have to happen for something better to take its place.
The World Art News (WAN) is not liable for the content of this publication. All statements and views expressed herein are only an opinion. Act at your own risk. No part of this publication may be reproduced without written permission. © The World Art News