Art collective helps people after prison: ‘No one will hire us’


Past Lives LLC hopes to create an environment for artists to get their start

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Brandon Morlock was three days out prison and looking for a job but couldn’t find one, so he decided to create a business for himself and others.

Morlock is the founder of Past Lives LLC in Southeast Portland, which is an organization making space for variety of artists, including those in prison or recently released. The art collective has shops, classes, private spaces and marketing channels for artists of all backgrounds to create.

The business provides discounts and work trade options for those facing systemic and economic disadvantages.

While in prison, inmates can receive training on various industrial positions and are later contracted to provide labor, explained Morlock.

“A lot of them are extremely marketable skills that we do develop while we’re on the inside, which should be a redeeming quality of the lack of rehabilitative services otherwise,” Morlock said. “But no one will hire us because we have a record.”

Art on display at Past Lives LLC in Southeast Portland. (KOIN)

Morlock remembers wanting to start an art collective since he was a child.

He tried starting the business while in and out of engineering school until a tragic accident changed the course of his life. While high on LSD, Morlock said he was involved in a car accident where his friend passed away.

Morlock later served close to five years in the prison system.

“It was a clarifying moment for me after that happened,” he recalled. “I decided pretty much immediately – I’ve always known exactly what I wanted to do. I don’t need to wait. I can start building this now.”

He added, “I have to (because) my friend who passed away was trying to help me get this off the ground, and I wanted to honor his memory in that way.”

While serving time in prison, Morlock started studying business economics, law and human resource management on his own.

He later learned about SCORE, which is an organization that offers a network of free volunteer small business mentors across the country. Morlock found a mentor about two years into his prison sentence that helped him create a business plan for Past Lives.

“Now, we have this wonderful space full of all of this equipment, and it’s attracting people that know how to use it because they want to pay their monthly membership to access the space,” he said.

Past Lives LLC is an art collective ready to help people in prison or recently out of prison create a business for themselves. The organization offers creatives spaces through a monthly membership fee. (KOIN)

Memberships are valid month-to-month and Past Lives will apply a $50 discount to members of a marginalized background.

The business also allows people to pay for someone else’s membership until 25% of that person’s sales are enough to cover their own membership.

“Your work as a sponsor isn’t done the moment they break even,” noted Morlock. “Once they’re making $300 to $400 on top of their membership cost just on their art sales so that they can support themselves.”

Past Lives also accepts tools and raw materials for those willing to help artists get their start.

With plans to expand into a bigger building soon, Morlock hopes to create a space for others to feel welcome.

“The people here are understanding of the fact that we all come from different backgrounds, especially those of us who are releasing from prison. They let people take their time with that,” he said. “They’re respectful and they’ve set boundaries and are basically just there to support them.”

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