A is for Artist (A is also for Arsonist)

From brilliance to madness and beyond, Jacob Martinez's artistic and personal journey has taken him further than he'd ever dreamed. The fire inside now quelled by medication, the nightmare of his mental illness is over. But at what price?

It was with his own art that he sparked the destruction. Martinez went down to his basement and took a razor blade to a large canvas depicting Fidel Castro with a Coke in hand, Jesus, and the Statue of Liberty holding an ice cream cone. He sliced the Statue of Liberty into a series of small wicks for Molotov cocktails.

"I would have used rags, but I didn't have any," he explains. "I was an artist. I had canvas, so that's what I used."

Around 9 p.m. he borrowed his brother-in-law's truck and drove to the church. "My plan was to first burn down the church and then run to the interstate into traffic and kill myself."

He parked the pickup on the street, and grabbed an ax and paint thinner from the back. Then he scaled the fence and entered the church through the window he had opened earlier that day. He moved quickly through the church to the bell tower, pausing to grab a box of matches left on the windowsill he had just crawled through.

Martinez took his ax to the bell tower door, splintering the thin wood paneling. He doused the interior of the small room inside with paint thinner. Then he struck a match and ran out of the church to the school next door where he did the same.

Martinez got back in the truck and crashed it into a pay phone. "I thought someone would call God," he says. Next he tried to drive the truck through the chain-link fence surrounding the church. It stalled. People were watching him now, and began approaching him. "I took off running, ran to the freeway and waited for a car to come so I could run in front of it. The cops got there first. They pointed their guns at me, they told me to get down on the ground and put a foot on my head."

Martinez was arrested at 9:35 p.m. and taken to the Madison Street Jail. He was held until 4 a.m. when court records show he waived his rights to an attorney and confessed.

Martinez told detectives what he had done, that he had planned it all. After he was interviewed, Martinez remembers crawling under the steel table in the holding cell and discovering a small bag of marijuana jammed under a table leg. He spread the pot out on the table and began eating it. "I was hungry," Martinez says.

He was booked just after 8 a.m. the next day on three counts of arson, three counts of burglary, possession of marijuana, tampering with evidence, and criminal damage. The church and adjacent buildings suffered more than $220,000 in damage.

His diary from that long night tells the story in blunt detail. Officers arrived and took him to an isolation cell. He felt their eyes on him, he writes. He removed his clothes and flooded the cell with the toilet water. The cell became a bathtub, then a track and field course. He started exercising, thinking he was being trained for the next opportunity and would soon be sent out to finish the job.

"I don't know what's going on, I'm completely confused. I'm scared. I'm angry," he wrote in his journal.

"I stayed up all night screaming. I took off all my clothes and rubbed poop all over myself like a cleansing mask. My sister came and told me to take a shower."

Later he remembers taunting the guards. "I wanted them to come in and kill me. I yelled at the top of my lungs, cursed at them, threw piss on them." The guards beat him, he wrote, then strapped him to a steel cot and called the nurse.

"They put me in restraints. My wrists and ankles. Janet comes in and gives me an injection. I'm asleep now. THE NEXT DAY I WAKE UP AND I'M A NEW PERSON."


He woke up shocked by his acts. His mind cleared of debris, the gravity of his actions overwhelmed him. "I didn't want to burn down Phoenix anymore. A wave of shame and guilt came over me. I was exhausted. I felt like a burden was lifted off me."

He painted all through his time at Madison and Durango jails, and continued once he was transferred to the State Hospital after pleading "Guilty Except Insane" to one count of arson on July 23, 1997.

His diaries from those days in lockup are revealing glimpses into his ever-shifting mind; coherent one day, rambling the next. Poems to loves lost and imagined, scraps of paper tacked in, an arm bracelet, drawings, painted-over texts. They document years of hell and redemption, years of reacting to the chemistry in his brain and trying to understand the complexities of his own mind. They show humor, too, like in his "UA series"; sketches inspired by the endless piss tests his doctors ordered are crudely whimsical, naked figures pissing into vials, urinals, faces.

Next, cigars occupied his time and his mind. He pasted their bands on a sky blue background, he started sketching his "Congo" series, line drawings of figures smoking with poetic captions he would later commit to canvas.

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