In 1961, Young was sent to prison for three years at the Raiford State Penitentiary in northern Florida. The charge was burglary; he was eighteen years old. While incarcerated he begin drawing for the first time since childhood.
Young referenced the pervasive effects of wrongful imprisonment and mass incarceration as early as the 1970s, incorporating images of padlocks in many of his early paintings, such as Locked up Their Minds (1972), now part of the permanent collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. A 1976 sketch of a prison is titled You put my people in jail for nothen.
Drawing parallels between prisons and the homes and buildings covered in jail-like bars in his Overtown neighborhood, Young asked, “Why apartments look like penitentiaries or everybody think that they got their own jailhouse? Why it got to look like this in America, in my environment? Why?”
In the following works, Young combines individual paintings of musicians, pregnant women, protesters, faces, angels, and horses, placing them behind prison bars constructed from paint, rope, wood, yarn and telephone cable.
All works Untitled and ca. 1980-1999