“I have successfully left my past behind me,” said Chu Kuo-fu (朱國富), a former gangster and prison inmate, who is now a successful sand-drawing artist.
It is hard to imagine the 44-year-old Chu, as he sits in a chair and focuses intently on the exact amount of colored sand he wants on his drawing, having been a drug-addicted gangster prowling the streets of Taipei who was sent to prison 18 years ago for drug trafficking.
Chu said he became acquainted with street gangs in his second year of junior-high school and that as a teenager, and even as an adult, he had no ambitions in life and did not want to learn any skills.
However, 15 years ago, while he was in the Department of Corrections’ Taiyuan Skill Training Institute, he had a change of heart.
“It wasn’t until my elder and younger brothers, who were both also in gangs, passed away, and then within a year of their passing both my parents died, that I suddenly woke up,” Chu said.
At the time the institute was holding sand-drawing classes, and motivated by the thought that he would have a skill with which to pass the time once he got out of prison, Chu learned sand-drawing faster than anyone else in his class.
Because he had a little bit of a background in oil painting, Chu quickly made progress in sand-drawing, and his works were well received when placed in prison exhibitions.
The compliments fueled his motivation to master the art, and he even practiced on weekends, after winning permission to sign out sand-drawing tools on weekends.
“Once I was immersed in the world of drawing, I rarely had the time to talk with other inmates about the past,” Chu said, adding that even if he did have time to talk with other inmates, they usually talked about his sand drawings.
After he was released from prison last year, Chu returned to northern Taiwan thinking of taking up gang life again, but he soon realized he was no longer interested or suited for that way of life.
Encouraged by friends, Chu went to Chengkung Township (成功), Taitung County, hoping to have some luck and success, since the town’s name means “success.”
It appears to have worked. Chu currently has a steady clientele and income, and his drawings are being sold at a consignment store the Department of Correction set up in Donghe Township (東河) in the county.
Even relatives of Jeremy Lin (林書豪), the first US-born NBA player of Taiwanese descent, has ordered a painting from Chu as a gift to Lin, Chu said.
Translated by Jake Chung, staff writer