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12 books that people say are life-changing reads

Some books have the power to change how we see ourselves, the world, and each other.

man reading. book on a bench
Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Books are powerful.

As a participant in the Amazon Associates affiliate program, Upworthy may earn proceeds from items purchased that are linked to this article, at no additional cost to you.


Out of all human inventions, books might just be the greatest. That may be a bold statement in the face of computers, the internet and the international space station, but none of those things would be possible without books. The written recording of human knowledge has allowed our advancements in learning to be passed on through generations, not to mention the capturing of human creativity in the form of longform storytelling.

Books have the power to change our lives on a fundamental level, shift our thinking, influence our beliefs, put us in touch with our feelings and help us understand ourselves and one another better.

That's why we asked Upworthy's audience to share a book that changed their life. Thousands of responses later, we have a list of inspiring reads that rose to the top.


Unsurprisingly, the most common responses were religious scriptures—the Bible, the Quran, the Book of Mormon, etc. Beyond those, here are the most common books, both fiction and non-fiction, that people considered life-changing.

1. "The Alchemist" by Paulo Coelho

The Alchemist book cover

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Amazon

"From the very first page, Coelho's storytelling prowess weaves a tapestry of adventure, wisdom, and self-discovery that is unparalleled. The protagonist's quest for his personal legend resonated deeply with me, prompting introspection into my own aspirations and purpose. The narrative, while seemingly a simple tale, unravels layers of universal truths and timeless wisdom that are applicable to every reader's journey." – Matt Brown

"Such greatness. Coelho tells the story with simplicity and elegance, and it is beautiful. The Alchemist is rhetorical kind of book that stays with you, and demands some time to unfold in your mind. Loved it!" – J. Green

Find "The Alchemist" on Amazon.

2. "The Four Agreements" by Don Miguel Ruiz

The Four Agreements book cover

The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz

Amazon

"This book literally changed my outlook on so many things. I’ve read it at least three times completely through. It helps deal with anxiety and helps you reframe and analyze your thoughts which may be troubling you. The writing style is great and I’ve already read other books by the same author. Would highly recommend purchasing this if you want to rethink your assumptions about yourself or other people." – Freddy

"By far the best book I’ve read. The simplicity in composition and detail is amazing. Would recommend everyone have a read. This book is truly a masterpiece." – Joshua

Find "The Four Agreements" on Amazon.

3. "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird book cover

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Amazon

"I remember reading the book many years ago and being moved by it especially being from the North and not as familiar with racism. I wondered why some schools were banning it so decided to revisit. I had forgotten the details but it is still an important book and reminds us that the fight against all prejudice is never finished and its current resurgence is cause for concern. This book should be required reading at a pretty young age. We can’t change what we don’t understand. If you have children read it with them and teach them well." – Maria

"I can’t imagine, for the life of me, why this book has been banned. It is the most moral and righteous book I’ve ever read. It represents a time in our history when racism was endemic to the white population except for one compassionate lawyer. Told from his children’s point of view with an unforgettable narrator, the story of a small southern town comes alive." – Peggy

Find "To Kill a Mockingbird" on Amazon.

4. "The Power of Now" by Eckhart Tolle

The Power of Now book cover

The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

Amazon

"This has become a true icon in the book of books on understanding how the mind works and how we become trapped in it. A must read." – Bill C.

"This book helped me through the toughest time in my life. It was an easy read, but ultimately, it helped me open my mind to many things and see things from multiple perspectives. My life coach recommended this book, and I'm happy that she did. It truly did save my life." – Coach J.

Find "The Power of Now" on Amazon.

5. "The Midnight Library" by Matt Haig

The Midnight Library book cover

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

Amazon

"I did not expect to enjoy this book so much. I very much admire the writer's prowess in creating a beautiful and inspiring story out of a depressing premise and what I admire even more is the perspective he has given me about life." – Ashish S.

"'The Midnight Library' by Matt Haig is nothing short of a literary masterpiece that effortlessly weaves together the threads of life, regret, and the boundless possibilities that lie in our choices. This No.1 Sunday Times bestseller and worldwide phenomenon is a soul-stirring exploration of the human experience that lingers in the reader's mind long after the final page." – George L.

Find "The Midnight Library" on Amazon.

6. "Atomic Habits" by James Clear

Atomic Habits book cover

Atomic Habits by James Clear

Amazon

"Atomic Habits by James Clear isn't just a book; it's a roadmap to personal excellence. Deserving a resounding 5 out of 5 stars, this masterpiece has profoundly impacted my approach to habit formation and personal development." – Ahamed

"Whether you're looking to break free from destructive habits, achieve ambitious goals, or simply lead a more fulfilling life, this book is a must-read. Clear's insights have the power to ignite change and propel you towards the best version of yourself." – SC

Find "Atomic Habits" on Amazon.

7. "Tuesdays with Morrie" by Mitch Albom

Tuesdays with Morrie book cover

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

Amazon

"I wish I had read this book earlier. It teaches to love those in your life with everything you have. We never know when life will take them away. Our parents will continue to age. Our friends will drift away. We will end up driving away the ones we say 'I love you' to. It’s not too late to tell them how much you love them. It’s not too late to show them how much you love them. If you share your love before it’s too late, you won’t live your life with regret." – P.M.

"Mitch Albom is my favorite author. Tuesdays with Morrie did not disappoint. Please please read this book. It is heartwarming, inspirational and will make you do an introspection that will change your priorities. I promise." – A.C.

Find "Tuesdays with Morrie" on Amazon.

8. "Untamed" by Glennon Doyle

Untamed book cover

Untamed by Glennon Doyle

Amazon

"By page 16, I’d already sobbed, laughed, sobbed, reconsidered who I am, how I live my life, and what I’m doing next, and cried again. So much fire lit. This is a masterpiece. Thank the universe (and Glennon) it published now. Lord knows we need this now. It is already one of my top favorite books ever, and I read a lot. Like, a LOT." – Anna S.

""Untamed" is a powerful and empowering memoir that delves deep into themes of self-discovery, authenticity, and breaking free from societal expectations. Doyle's writing is raw, honest, and deeply relatable. From the moment I started reading, I felt a connection to her journey and the struggles she navigates. One of the standout qualities of this book is Doyle's ability to articulate complex emotions and thoughts in a way that resonates with readers. Her insights into the expectations placed on women, the constraints of traditional roles, and the journey to reclaiming one's true self are both enlightening and inspiring." – Frank C.

Find "Untamed" on Amazon.

9. "Man's Search for Meaning" by Viktor Frankl

Man's Search for Meaning book cover

Man's Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl

Amazon

"Man's Search for Meaning" by Viktor E. Frankl is a poignant exploration of resilience under the most testing conditions. As a Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist, Frankl intertwines his concentration camp experiences with his psychological expertise. Central to the book is the idea of logotherapy, which posits that finding meaning in life is the primary human drive. Frankl's narrative transcends its historical context, offering timeless insights into human endurance and the quest for purpose. The book is especially impactful for those facing personal adversities, as it highlights the power of choice and perspective in shaping one's destiny." – Neal W.

"This little one hundred page book is perhaps the most meaningful and profound that you can ever read. Disturbing, yet full of 'tragic optimism,' this book will change the way you think about life, happiness, and meaning." – Paige T.

Find "Man's Search for Meaning" on Amazon.

10. "The Untethered Soul" by Michael Singer

The Untethered Soul book cover

The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer

Amazon

"Michael A. Singer's "The Untethered Soul" is a literary masterpiece that has left an indelible mark on my journey of self-discovery. I stumbled upon this gem through a TikTok video recommendation, and I am profoundly grateful that I did." – Matt B.

"This book encapsulates every spiritual book I’ve read into a concise oneness! Everyone would benefit in some way by reading this book. Period." – Joe S.

Find "The Untethered Soul" on Amazon.

11. "The Giver" by Lois Lowry

The Giver book cover

The Giver by Lois Lowry

Amazon

"Brought this book since my daughter had to read it for school and I always like to know what are they are teaching her. I am going to be honest very surprise that they are giving this kind of story to a 8th grader since the story is very intense, surprising, sad but at the same time beautiful and teach the real meaning of love and sacrifice. That live in an idealistic world does not work and it's never better than having love in your live." – Marla

"The way Lois slowly introduces us into her idyllic and yet cruel world is simply amazing. The end of the book has left me completely moved and flabbergasted." – Nathan S.

Find "The Giver" on Amazon.

12. "The Last Lecture" by Randy Pausch

The Last Lecture book cover

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

Amazon

"I’ve read this book twice now. Once at 18 and now again at 33! Both time it hits deep. Fantastic read!" – A.C.

"Professor Randy Pausch was diagnosed with terminal cancer. In response, Pausch wrote and delivered one last lecture--a self-help guide on living life with purpose and meaning. But his lecture wasn't really for his students or for the world, although it's been a massive bestseller. It was for his children.

One of my favorite books of all-time, with one of my favorite lines of all time. 'If I could only give three words of advice, they'd be, 'Tell the truth.' If I got three more, they'd be, 'All the time.' --Randy Pausch" – Phil W.

Find "The Last Lecture" on Amazon.

If you enjoy inspiring reads, our upcoming book, "Upworthy—GOOD PEOPLE: Stories From the Best of Humanity" features 101 stories of human decency and is now available for pre-order! Learn more here.

Good people book cover

GOOD PEOPLE: Stories From the Best of Humanity

books.disney.com

This article originally appeared on 2.19.24

Sponsored

3 organic recipes that feed a family of 4 for under $7 a serving

O Organics is the rare brand that provides high-quality food at affordable prices.

A woman cooking up a nice pot of pasta.

Over the past few years, rising supermarket prices have forced many families to make compromises on ingredient quality when shopping for meals. A recent study published by Supermarket News found that 41% of families with children were more likely to switch to lower-quality groceries to deal with inflation.

By comparison, 29% of people without children have switched to lower-quality groceries to cope with rising prices.

Despite the current rising costs of groceries, O Organics has enabled families to consistently enjoy high-quality, organic meals at affordable prices for nearly two decades. With a focus on great taste and health, O Organics offers an extensive range of options for budget-conscious consumers.

O Organics launched in 2005 with 150 USDA Certified Organic products but now offers over 1,500 items, from organic fresh fruits and vegetables to organic dairy and meats, organic cage-free certified eggs, organic snacks, organic baby food and more. This gives families the ability to make a broader range of recipes featuring organic ingredients than ever before.


“We believe every customer should have access to affordable, organic options that support healthy lifestyles and diverse shopping preferences,” shared Jennifer Saenz, EVP and Chief Merchandising Officer at Albertsons, one of many stores where you can find O Organics products. “Over the years, we have made organic foods more accessible by expanding O Organics to every aisle across our stores, making it possible for health and budget-conscious families to incorporate organic food into every meal.”

With some help from our friends at O Organics, Upworthy looked at the vast array of products available at our local store and created some tasty, affordable and healthy meals.

Here are 3 meals for a family of 4 that cost $7 and under, per serving. (Note: prices may vary by location and are calculated before sales tax.)

O Organic’s Tacos and Refried Beans ($6.41 Per Serving)

Few dishes can make a family rush to the dinner table quite like tacos. Here’s a healthy and affordable way to spice up your family’s Taco Tuesdays.

Prep time: 2 minutes

Cook time: 20 minutes

Total time: 22 minutes

Ingredients:

1 lb of O Organics Grass Fed Ground Beef ($7.99)

1 packet O Organics Taco Seasoning ($2.29)

O Organics Mexican-Style Cheese Blend Cheese ($4.79)

O Organics Chunky Salsa ($3.99)

O Organics Taco Shells ($4.29)

1 can of O Organics Refried Beans ($2.29)

Instructions:

1. Cook the ground beef in a skillet over medium heat until thoroughly browned; remove any excess grease.

2. Add 1 packet of taco seasoning to beef along with water [and cook as directed].

3. Add taco meat to the shell, top with cheese and salsa as desired.

4. Heat refried beans in a saucepan until cooked through, serve alongside tacos, top with cheese.

tacos, o organics, family recipesO Organics Mexican-style blend cheese.via O Organics

O Organics Hamburger Stew ($4.53 Per Serving)

Busy parents will love this recipe that allows them to prep in the morning and then serve a delicious, slow-cooked stew after work.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 7 hours

Total time: 7 hours 15 minutes

Servings: 4

Ingredients:

1 lb of O Organics Grass Fed Ground Beef ($7.99)

1 ½ lbs O Organics Gold Potatoes ($4.49)

3 O Organics Carrots ($2.89)

1 tsp onion powder

I can O Organics Tomato Paste ($1.25)

2 cups water

1 yellow onion diced ($1.00)

1 clove garlic ($.50)

1 tsp salt

1/4 tsp pepper

2 tsp Italian seasoning or oregano

Instructions:

1. Cook the ground beef in a skillet over medium heat until thoroughly browned; remove any excess grease.

2. Transfer the cooked beef to a slow cooker with the potatoes, onions, carrots and garlic.

3. Mix the tomato paste, water, salt, pepper, onion powder and Italian seasoning in a separate bowl.

4. Drizzle the mixed sauce over the ingredients in the slow cooker and mix thoroughly.

5. Cover the slow cooker with its lid and set it on low for 7 to 8 hours, or until the potatoes are soft. Dish out into bowls and enjoy!

potatoes, o organics, hamburger stewO Organics baby gold potatoes.via O Organics


O Organics Ground Beef and Pasta Skillet ($4.32 Per Serving)

This one-pan dish is for all Italian lovers who are looking for a saucy, cheesy, and full-flavored comfort dish that takes less than 30 minutes to prepare.

Prep time: 2 minutes

Cook time: 25 minutes

Total time: 27 minutes

Servings: 4

Ingredients:

1 lb of O Organics Grass Fed Ground Beef ($7.99)

1 tbsp. olive oil

2 tsp dried basil

1 tsp garlic powder

1 can O Organics Diced Tomatoes ($2.00)

1 can O Organics Tomato Sauce ($2.29)

1 tbsp O Organics Tomato Paste ($1.25)

2 1/4 cups water

2 cups O Organics Rotini Pasta ($3.29)

1 cup O Organics Mozzarella cheese ($4.79)

Instructions:

1. Brown ground beef in a skillet, breaking it up as it cooks.

2. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and garlic powder

3. Add tomato paste, sauce and diced tomatoes to the skillet. Stir in water and bring to a light boil.

4. Add pasta to the skillet, ensuring it is well coated. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

5. Remove the lid, sprinkle with cheese and allow it to cool.

o organics, tomato basil pasta sauce, olive oilO Organics tomato basil pasta sauce and extra virgin olive oil.via O Organics

Marcos Alberti's "3 Glasses" project began with a joke and a few drinks with his friends.

The photo project originally depicted Alberti's friends drinking, first immediately after work and then after one, two, and three glasses of wine.

But after Imgur user minabear circulated the story, "3 Glasses" became more than just a joke. In fact, it went viral, garnering more than 1 million views and nearly 1,800 comments in its first week. So Alberti started taking more pictures and not just of his friends.



"The first picture was taken right away when our guests (had) just arrived at the studio in order to capture the stress and the fatigue after a full day after working all day long and from also facing rush hour traffic to get here," Alberti explained on his website. "Only then fun time and my project could begin. At the end of every glass of wine, a snapshot, nothing fancy, a face and a wall, 3 times."

Why was the series so popular? Anyone who has ever had a long day at work and needed to "wine" down will quickly see why.

Take a look:

Photos of person after drinking glasses of win

All photos by Marcos Alberti, used with permission.

assets.rebelmouse.io

Photos of person after drinking glasses of win

assets.rebelmouse.io

This article originally appeared on 11.19.16

Images provided by P&G

Three winners will be selected to receive $1000 donated to the charity of their choice.

True

Doing good is its own reward, but sometimes recognizing these acts of kindness helps bring even more good into the world. That’s why we’re excited to partner with P&G again on the #ActsOfGood Awards.

The #ActsOfGood Awards recognize individuals who actively support their communities. It could be a rockstar volunteer, an amazing community leader, or someone who shows up for others in special ways.

Do you know someone in your community doing #ActsOfGood? Nominate them between April 24th-June 3rdhere.Three winners will receive $1,000 dedicated to the charity of their choice, plus their story will be highlighted on Upworthy’s social channels. And yes, it’s totally fine to nominate yourself!

We want to see the good work you’re doing and most of all, we want to help you make a difference.

While every good deed is meaningful, winners will be selected based on how well they reflect Upworthy and P&G’s commitment to do #ActsOfGood to help communities grow.

That means be on the lookout for individuals who:

Strengthen their community

Make a tangible and unique impact

Go above and beyond day-to-day work

The #ActsOfGood Awards are just one part of P&G’s larger mission to help communities around the world to grow. For generations, P&G has been a force for growth—making everyday products that people love and trust—while also being a force for good by giving back to the communities where we live, work, and serve consumers. This includes serving over 90,000 people affected by emergencies and disasters through the Tide Loads of Hope mobile laundry program and helping some of the millions of girls who miss school due to a lack of access to period products through the Always #EndPeriodPoverty initiative.

Visit upworthy.com/actsofgood and fill out the nomination form for a chance for you or someone you know to win. It takes less than ten minutes to help someone make an even bigger impact.

Kevin Olusola (far right) has a viral video that has nothing to do with music.

Even though the world has seemingly shrunk due to transportation and technology connecting people like never before, we still regularly encounter major barriers when it comes to language. There are around 7,000 officially known languages in the world, and most people don't speak more than one or two. If you've ever tried to communicate with someone when neither of you speak each other's language, you know how frustrating it can be.

But the reverse is also true. When you're in another country and unexpectedly encounter someone who speaks your language, it's a refreshing and delightful surprise. Americans are pretty familiar with that experience, as it's not uncommon to find people who speak English in other countries, but that's not the case for everyone.

It's especially not the case for Chinese people living in the U.S., where only around 1% of people speak Chinese at home, and those numbers are split between Mandarin, Cantonese and other dialects. Finding an American who comfortably speaks Mandarin is a rarity, which is why a video of employees of a Chinese restaurant reacting to a customer doing just that has gone viral.


That customer is musician Kevin Olusola, most well known as one of the vocalists in the a cappella group Pentatonix. Olusola was picking up some food at Okome Asian Grill in his home state of Kentucky when he surprised the crew by responding to them in Mandarin, and their reaction was sheer surprise and delight.

Watch:

Olusola shared in the comments that it meant a lot to him and filled his heart when the woman said, "You're one of us."

He joked in the video about being born and raised in Beijing, but he actually only lived there and studied Chinese for a year and a half. But as he said, he loved the language and put his "whole heart" into studying it. And apparently, however he learned it was incredibly effective.

"As a native Chinese speaker I need people to realize how amazing this is: not only is he speaking Chinese fluently and pretty quickly, he's also slurring certain words/speaking in a certain accent, using sentence patterns, and using phrases that's specific to Beijing: he is literally in every sense speaking like a Beijing locals, it's so cool to see 😍" shared one commenter.

Another commenter explained what he said after "The food is" in the video: "Se Xiang Wei Ju Quan, literally 'colour,' 'aroma,' 'taste,' 'complete,' the first three are the three basic requirements of well made food in the philosophy of Chinese cooking, so essentially it means 'Your food is amazing, it looks good, smells good and tastes good.'"

Another person wrote, "I’ve been watching videos like this on YouTube..it’s always so interesting. Once that language barrier comes down we are so much alike." That comment hit home for Olusola and he responded to it with another video.

"Once language barriers go down you realize that we're all alike—that statement resonates so deeply with me," he said. "I remember living in Beijing and hanging out with my Chinese friends, speaking to them in Chinese, and once the language barrier was down I realized that they had the same hopes, dreams and fears that I had…I think that's why empathy and understanding are so embedded in language learning."

Empathy and understanding really are the key to shared humanity. Ideally, one day we will have a universal language that we all learn to speak in addition to our native tongues, so that we won't have to navigate those language barriers that artificially separate us. But in the meantime, learning another culture's language can be a bridge that unites people in moments of delight like this one.

Pop Culture

Man's seemingly obvious 'dishwasher hack' is blowing everyone's minds

One man’s observation about his dishwasher may change the way you do dishes forever.

Mike McLoughlan realized something very important about his dishwasher.

No one likes doing the dishes, but the tedious chore is made much easier when using a dishwasher. However, an alarming amount of people have reported that their dishwashers can actually make the job harder because they don't properly fit their dishes.

And that's where Twitter user Mike McLoughlin (@zuroph) comes in.

Back in January, McLoughlin made an observation about his dishwasher that would change the way he does dishes forever. For a decade, the Irishman thought that the bottom rack of his washer simply was too small for his large dinner plates. Then he made an amazing discovery:


The tweet went totally viral, and was shared over 14,000 times. He even tweeted a picture to show just how much he could fit in the dishwasher now that he knows the racks are adjustable:

The "hack" (is it still called a hack if the appliance is doing what it is supposed to be doing?) blew people's minds:

But other people were basically like, "Seriously, dude?"

While a group of others tried to one-up McLoughlin with stories of their own:


Okay, go on and check your own dishwasher. You know you want to.


This article first appeared on 8.16.18.

A woman painting and Scott Galloway.

“Follow your passion” is a cliche you will hear in almost every graduation commencement speech. But we all accept it as a golden rule for life because we hear it so often and it feels right.

We tell ourselves that if we are passionate about something, we will be good at it and it will sustain us throughout our lives. However, Scott Galloway, a self-made millionaire and marketing professor at New York University Stern School of Business, thinks that telling people to follow their passions is bad advice.

In 2005, Galloway founded the digital intelligence firm L2 Inc., a venture that would go on to be acquired by Gartner for a staggering $155 million in March 2017.


″[Return on investment] and sex appeal are inversely correlated. What do we mean about that? Simply put: Don’t follow your passion,” Galloway told CNBC Make It. Instead, Galloway proposes a more practical approach. “Find out what you’re good at and then invest 10,000 hours in it — and become great at it,” Galloway says.

The 10,000-hour theory Malcolm Gladwell explains in his book “Outliers,” states that to become exceptionally good at something, you need about 10,000 hours of practice. In his book, he emphasizes that it's not just talent that matters; putting in the time and effort is key to mastering any skill or profession.

In “Outliers,” Gladwell notes that highly successful people, including Bill Gates, The Beatles, and Robert Oppenheimer, all put 10,000 hours into their particular skill sets before reaching incredible heights of success.

“People often come to NYU and say, ‘Follow your passion’ — which is total bulls***, especially because the individual telling you to follow your passion usually became magnificently wealthy selling software as a service for the scheduling of health care maintenance workers. And I refuse to believe that that was his or her passion,” Calloway continues.

Calloway adds that one of the benefits of focusing on our natural gifts is that it will eventually inspire passion. “What they were passionate about was being great at something, and then the accouterments of being great at something — the recognition from colleagues, the money, the status will make you passionate about whatever it is,” Galloway said.

Scott Galloway - The Four - What To Do
make action GIFs like this at MakeaGif

A 2018 report by Stanford researchers came to a similar conclusion. The researchers believe that following one’s passions isn’t a clear road to success for numerous reasons. The maxim assumes that we have only one passion in life and that it will not change over time. It also gives the impression that when we follow our passions, we’ll always magically fall into our dream jobs and become successful.

Finally, just because one is passionate about something doesn’t necessarily mean they are good at it.

While some may think Calloway’s advice is cynical and heartless, there's something extraordinary about nurturing our natural gifts and using them to achieve success in life. In a world where our talents and passions may not always align, embracing what makes you unique and sharing it with the world in your own special way is a beautiful gift that you can offer.

Identity

6 beautiful drawings by LGBTQ inmates that illustrate life in prison

Their artwork shows their strength, resilience, and talent.

"Acceptance" by Stevie S.


Tatiana von Furstenberg laid out more than 4,000 works of art on the floor of her apartment and was immediately struck by what she saw.

The pieces of artwork were submitted from various prisons across the country in hopes of being featured in "On the Inside," an exhibition of artwork by currently incarcerated LGBTQ inmates, curated by von Furstenberg and Black and Pink, a nonprofit organization that supports the LGBTQ community behind bars. The exhibit was held at the Abrons Arts Center in Manhattan toward the end of 2016.

"I put all the submissions on the floor and I saw that there were all these loving ones, these signs of affection, all of these two-spirit expressions of gender identity, and fairies and mermaids," von Furstenberg said.


She noticed the recurring topics throughout the works of different artists — eye contact, desire, fighting back, alienation, and longing — and these shared struggles became the themes of the art exhibition.

"These artists feel really forgotten. They really did not think that anybody cared for them. And so for them to have a show in New York and to hear what the responses have been is huge, it's very uplifting," she said.

Plenty of people turn to art as a means of escape. But for the artists involved in On the Inside, the act of making art also put them at risk.

Gay, lesbian, and bisexual people are incarcerated at twice the rate of heterosexuals, and trans people are three times as likely to end up behind bars than cisgender people. During incarceration, they're also much more vulnerable than non-LGBTQ inmates to violence, sexual assault, and unusual punishments such as solitary confinement.

Not every prison makes art supplies readily available, either, which means that some of the artists who submitted to "On the Inside" had to find ways to make their work from contraband materials, such as envelopes and ink tubes. And of course, by drawing provocative images about their identities, they also risked being outed and threatened by other inmates around them.

But sometimes, the act of self-expression is worth that risk. Here are some of the remarkable examples of that from the exhibition.

(Content warning: some of the images include nudity.)

1."A Self Portrait" by B. Tony.

inmates, jail, sketching

“A Self Portrait” by B. Tony

2. "Rihanna" by Gabriel S.

relationships, identity, rehabilitation

“Rihanna” by Gabriel S.

"Rihanna is who I got the most pictures of," von Furstenburg said. "I think it's because she is relatable in both her strength and her vulnerability. She's real.”

3. "Acceptance" by Stevie S.

body art, tattoo, mental health

"Acceptance" by Stevie S.

"This series is sexy and loving and domestic," von Furstenberg said about these two portraits by Stevie S. "A different look at family values/family portrait.”

4. "Michael Jackson" by Jeremy M.

celebrity, art, paintings

“Michael Jackson” by Jeremy M.

assets.rebelmouse.io

This was another one of von Furstenberg's favorites, because of the way it depicts a struggle with identity. "[MJ] was different, he was such a unique being that struggled so much with his identity and his body image the way a lot of our artists, especially our trans artists, are struggling behind bars," she said.

5. "Unknown" by Tiffany W.

pixies, fairie, fantasy

“Unknown” by Tiffany W.

6. "Genotype" and "Life Study," by J.S.

anatomy, Michaelangelo, nudes

“Genotype” and “Life Study” by J.S.

"This is the Michelangelo of the group," von Furstenberg said. "To be able to draw this with pencil and basic prison lighting is astounding. One of the best drawings I've ever seen in my life.”

When the exhibition opened to the public on Nov. 4, 2016, visitors even had the chance to share their thoughts with the artists.

The exhibit included an interactive feature that allowed people to text their comments and responses to the artist, which von Furstenberg then converted to physical paper and mailed to inmates.

Some of the messages included:

"I have had many long looks in the mirror like in your piece the beauty within us. I'm glad you can see your beautiful self smiling out. I see her too. Thank you."
"I am so wowed by your talent. You used paper, kool aid and an inhaler to draw a masterpiece. I feel lucky to have been able to see your work, and I know that other New Yorkers will feel the same. Keep creating."
"I've dreamed the same dreams. The barriers in your way are wrong. We will tear them down some day. Stay strong Dear."

Many people were also surprised at how good the artwork was — but they shouldn't have been.

Just because someone's spent time in prison doesn't mean they can't be a good person — or a talented artist. They're also being compensated for their artwork. While business transactions with incarcerated people are technically illegal, $50 donations have been made to each artist's commissary accounts to help them purchase food and other supplies.

"We're led to believe that people behind bars are dangerous, that we're safer without them, but it's not true," von Furstenberg said. "The fact that anybody would assume that [the art] would be anything less than phenomenal shows that there's this hierarchy: The artist is up on this pedestal, and other people marginalized people are looked down upon.”

Art has always been about connecting people. And for these incarcerated LGBTQ artists, that human connection is more important than ever.

Perhaps the only thing harder than being in prison is trying to integrate back into society — something that most LGBTQ people struggle with anyway. These are people who have already had difficulty expressing who they are on the inside and who are now hidden away from the world behind walls.

On the Inside's art show provided them a unique opportunity to have their voices heard — and hopefully, their individual messages are loud enough to resonate when they're on the outside too.


This article originally appeared on 11.14.16