However, what he’s doing within that setting – prison – is very inspirational indeed. Tobin, a Squaxin Island Indian, is serving a 14-year prison term at the minimum-security Monroe Correction Complex in Washington state, according to this story in the Everett (Wash.) Herald, and is using his skills to teach 10 inmates how to carve a totem pole.
Neighbors donated a 25-foot cedar log, and Tobin’s lawyer contributed $1,000 worth of tools. Tobin’s earning his prison wage of 42 cents an hour for work that an expert in American Indian art says could earn him as much as $3,000 per foot on the outside.
After two weeks, the pole is taking shape. The base depicts a bear protecting a woman who was carved with detail down to her smooth toenails.
Other designs needed to be carved, like a whale in combat with the bear. Tobin says their deadlocked battle will symbolize the idea of respect, a part of prison life, while a shaman will represent the wisdom of judges and lawyers.
Tobin is serving a term for clam poaching. He had been helping the police find geoduck poachers, even as he ran his own million-dollar operation behind their backs, according to a 2003 Seattle Times story. He could be released between 2011 and 2016. He says he wants to start a business that teaches carving and sells American Indian art after he gets out. The pole will stay at the prison.
That’s fine by Tobin. He tells the Herald that the pole will be a tribute to the fact that prisoners can come together and make things work.
“This pole,” he says, took the life of the tree, “but it’s going to live at least another 10 decades.”