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A small, unbreakable tin wall mirror in a solitary cell. Reflection is of a slatted window. Photo: Ashley Gilbertson/VII Photo for New York Magazine.

The suicide of Kalief Browder was the latest, most tragic reminder of how much of a hell hole Rikers Island is. It was the combined effects of broken bail and juvenile prison systems that killed Kalief.

Take your pick of the coverage from The Guardian and the New York Times, to New York Magazine. What has been consistent in the coverage of Rikers as information about conditions and treatment is that visuals have been limited and it has relied on the progression of lawsuits and news FOIA requests. Whistleblowers have been few and far between and prisoners’ testimonies are notoriously difficult to verify.

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An August 2013 fight in the George R. Vierno Center, caught on surveillance tape.

That makes the recent feature Rikers Island, Population 9,790, a joint effort between The Marshall Project and New York Magazine noteworthy. In the expansive effort involving more than half a dozen journalists, we hear from a couple who both went to Rikers in the same year (she was pregnant); a teacher on Rikers; a couple of recent prisoners; an officer, the commissioner of the department of corrections; a girlfriend of a slain prisoner; a former volunteer-librarian; various visitors; a mental health professional; and others.

The selection of imagery (as well as an overview map) is one of the most diverse visual presentations of Rikers that I have seen online. It includes Ashley Gilbertson‘s straight shots from common areas, wings and solitary cells, Ruth Fremson‘s work from the kitchen, surveillance video stills, photos of prisoners by Clara Vannucci and Julie Jacobson, Instagram images found under the hashtag #Rikers, environmental studies by Librado Romero, and archival photos by my friend and former correctional officer Lorenzo Steele Jr.

Bravo to the photo editors of The Marshall Project and New York Magazine.

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The recreation center at the bing. Photo: Officer Lorenzo Steele Jr.

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Contraband, including jail-made weapons and drugs. Photo: New York City Department of Correction via AP.

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The view from Instagram, #Rikers: Clockwise from left: The bridge to Rikers; bathroom graffiti inside the vistors center; the new maximum-security wing; the entrace to a chapel; a correction officer at an adolescent unit; an exercise and recreation area. Photo: Kelsey Jorgenson/Edgar Sandoval/JB Nicholas/Bryan R. Smith/JR/Gee Force.

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Prisoners at “Rosie’s” the women’s unit. Photo: Clara Vannucci.

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Inside a solitary-confinement cell. Photo: Ashley Gilbertson/VII Photo for New York Magazine.

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New piece over on Vantage about photographer H. Lee‘s embed on a Humboldt County weed farm.

In 2010, Lee spent a year running up to the fiercely contested Proposition 19 documenting the activities on a pot farm.

Prop. 19 was a ballot initiative that proposed regulation and taxing of the California marijuana industry. Small-holding growers feared its passage would mean the destruction of their livelihoods. Lee had been visiting the pot farm for 8 years prior but never made an image. Then, in 2010, when massive and crushing change loomed, she took up her camera.

 H. Lee is a psuedonym. Promising subjects their anonymity by proxy of her own just made things easier.

“I gave my word to the people I photographed — whether I shot their faces, body parts, plants or farms — that I would use a pseudonym when presenting the work,” says Lee. “I only photographed those who were willing to be photographed.”

Prop 19 was voted down in November 2010.

Read the full story and see photos very large at Vantage: Inside the California Weed Industry

Grassland is published by Kehrer Verlag. Follow the Grassland on Facebook and Twitter.

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A toilet in an occupied cell on G wing.

Blood stained, scum-stained, litter-strewn, dirty as all hell, hell-hole of a prison. That’s an accurate description HMP Pentonville based upon 8 images included in a recent report on the infamous Victorian prison in North London.

I’m intrigued by evidentiary photos; I reckon they can often tell us more than an exposé-chasing photographer can. All we know is that employees of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate Of Prisons made these images. They exist for the record and I can only show them here because HMIP puts out its reports online in PDF format and I took a few grabs. Even then, I only came across them because Charlotte Bilby flagged them for me.

Bilby, Reader in Criminology and Faculty Director of Research Ethics Department at Northumbria University, says that she knows not of previous inclusions of photographs in HMIP reports. I don’t either, but UK prisons are not something I’m particularly knowledgeable about.

Let’s say for now that these photos are a new discover, if not a new departure.

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The C wing showers.

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Area outside J wing.

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An empty G wing cell.

I wonder what other government-employee-made and , technically, publicly-available images exist? I wonder if a broader selection of pics would give the British public a deeper understanding of Her Majesty’s prisons and jails?

Also, I hope other prisons aren’t as bad as Pentonville.

Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons said his team found during an unannounced inspection that consditions at HMP Pentonville had deteriorated since its last inspection (2013) when things were bad already. With 1,200 men and young offenders, HMP Pentonville is overcrowded.

“It continues to hold some of the most demanding and needy prisoners and this, combined with a rapid turnover and over 100 new prisoners a week, presents some enormous challenges,” says a report summary. “Continuing high levels of staff sickness and ongoing recruitment problems meant the prison was running below its agreed staffing level and this was having an impact on many areas.”

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The changing area in the C wing shower.

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A food trolley.

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Blood on a bunk bed.

In response, staffing levels have increased and the authorities remain confident in the warden and the leadership of the institution. While, they believe things can improve quickly, they identified many areas for vast improvement.

  • most prisoners felt unsafe as levels of violence were much higher than in similar prisons and had almost doubled since the last inspection;
  • prisoners struggled to gain daily access to showers and to obtain enough clean clothing, cleaning materials and eating utensils;
  • prisoners said drugs were easily available and the positive drug testing rate was high even though too few prisoners were tested;
  • the prison remained very overcrowded and the poor physical environment was intensified by some extremely dirty conditions;
  • some prisoners spoke about very helpful staff, but most described distant relationships with staff and were frustrated by their inability to get things done;
  • too little was being done to meet the needs of the large black and minority ethnic population, disabled prisoners and older prisoners;
  • prisoners had little time unlocked with the majority experiencing under six hours out of their cells each day and some as little as one hour;
  • the delivery of learning and skills was inadequate and there were not enough education, training or work places for the population;
  • acute staff shortages had undermined the delivery of offender management, which was very poor; and
  • the quality of resettlement services was very mixed.

The UK’s use of an independent inspectorate for prisons is a very effective check-and-balance for a hard-edged system that can easily corrupt itself behind closed doors. The fact that prisoners feel unsafe in the transportation vans and cell tiers is the biggest red flag for me here.

It’s worth noting, then, that these photos only reflect the visible messy disfunctions of HMP Pentonville. The uptick in violence and drug use was learnt through prisoner questionnaires.

Read the full report here.

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Piles of clothing on ridges outside D wing.

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“Kalief Browder may have hung himself, but he was killed by the brokenness of our court system.” This is an important reflection by Raj Jayadev.

Originally posted on Albert Cobarrubias Justice Project:

by Raj Jayadev (This piece originally ran in the Huffington Post)

09browder-facebookjumbo-v2_large Kalief Browder

To call the death of 22-year-old Kalief Browder a suicide is not the full truth. Kalief Browder may have hung himself, but he was killed by the brokenness of our court system.

The story of his short life, told by Jennifer Gonnerman in The New Yorker last year, chronicles the horrors of a 16-year-old who was charged for a stealing a backpack, sent to the isolation and brutality of Rikers Island prison for three years, only for the charge to eventually be dropped by the prosecutor. Follow up articles report that Kalief was so profoundly haunted from his mental and physical abuse inside that upon his release, he was hospitalized and told his mother, “I can’t take it anymore.” Ultimately, he hung himself with an air-conditioner cord at his home this June.

The ubiquity of his…

View original 880 more words

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Photo: Paul Rucker

GUNS

When Obama went to Marc Maron’s garage to record a WTF episode, he was in a sober frame of mind. He was frank about our situation right now with gun control. After Sandy Hook, he said, his administration tried everything they could to change laws but the legislation was fought by the usual NRA suspects. The legislation was watered down and achieved little.

Astutely, Obama didn’t pin the blame solely on the NRA and the kowtowing politicians but also on us. Yes, us, we, you and me. Sweeping political changes will follow sweeping social pressure. But in the aftermath of Sandy Hook, in Obama’s estimation, there was lots of talk but ultimately not enough public will to ring in the massive changes we need.

This is a teachable moment of sorts. Here, POTUS is telling us that organising works; he is saying that politicians listen if the swell of opinion is unavoidable and undeniable. The wave of gun opposition wasn’t sustained or powerful enough it seems. Well, yes and no. Yes, in that political change didn’t result. But, no, in that the passions and intelligence of the gun law reformers shouldn’t be dismissed, or pegged as total failure. It is my belief that in gun reform, in prison reform, in education reform — in any movement that demands wide-scale change — the efforts of the activists must compensate for the inertia and fear of the politicians they wish to influence.

Even when it makes moral, social and economic sense to enact positive change, we have seen that politicians find it hard to filter out the sound of the waft of of checkbooks and the loud and persistent lobbyist’s din.

We have to work harder to see gun laws change. We have to work harder to reduce hate and homegrown terror acts.

CONDOLENCES

Paul Rucker is one of the hardest working artists I know. He’s always stationed politics at the center of his practice but in recent years he has ventured fearlessly into America’s racial histories, current psyche and shortcomings. I curated Paul’s work in Prison Obscura. This morning, Paul sent out the following message to those on his email list. I think it is eloquent. It is from a point of knowledge. And I hope Paul doesn’t mind me sharing it.

Dear Friends,

I’ve been in South Carolina this week visiting my mother. The flags are at half staff at the library. The deeply ambivalent feelings I have for home are more real than ever. Growing up, I remember seeing Confederate flags on cars and bumper stickers stating “I should have picked my own damn cotton!” These were just part of the culture. An even deeper and unacknowledged part of the culture are the souls that built this state and this country. In 1860, there were more slaves living in South Carolina than free citizens. Cotton sales were worth $200 million then, the equivalent of $5 billion today. As we argue/discuss the flag, we must also add to our conversation the  true and complete history of the South and America. Cotton was shipped all over the country and the world. The role of slave labor in the economic success of our country must be acknowledged, along with the cost of that success in millions of lives not deemed human. If we remove the flag, let us replace it with knowledge, and so honor the souls that brought us here to the prosperous land that we have today.

My condolences to the families of the nine people murdered a week ago. My heart goes out to them and their loved ones.

With a heavy heart,

Paul

Well said.

COMICS

Also well said.

Joey Milledge has a plush replica of his late father Army Sgt. Joseph B. Milledge at his home in Gig Harbor, Washington. “I like to sleep with it because it gives me good memories of my dad and sometimesÉ and good dreams, too,” he said.

Touched base with my old mucker Erika Schultz this week. She’s great, her colleagues are great, The Seattle Times is great. It’s a paper that allows its photographers to dive into projects deep. All my buds who shoot at the Times work super hard. It’s not easy, but it can be rewarding. Usually, it’s important.

I tacked on a question to my email to Erika about the photo she’s made recently and most proud of. Erika replied:

An image from a video and photo project on two local woman (and their sons) who lost their husbands in the Iraq War. The women — who were similar ages as me — thought it was important to share their stories on Memorial Day to remind the public of the human cost and sacrifice of war, and keep the memory alive of their husbands for their children.

I was listening to a radio program round up of the latest announcements by politicians for the 2016 Democratic ticket. One of candidates is Lincoln Chafee. He was a Republican U.S. Senator (1999-2007) and later a Governor of Rhode Island (2011-2015) but as an Independent. Well now he wants to challenge Hillary.

Chafee’s distinguishing feature is that he was the only Republican Senator to vote against authorising the use of force in Iraq. Will it matter? Probably not; the radio commentators suggested past wars aren’t of any importance to most Americans, now. Sad.

It’s easy to forget that moving on and away is difficult-to-impossible for some.

Here’s the video. put together by Corinne Chin and Lauren Frohne.

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Erika is Wyoming born, a  staff photographer. Co-founder . board member .

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I spoke recently with photographer Kike Arnal about his experience documenting a crafts work program in the low security Quencoro Prison in Cuzco, Peru.

The World Bank/United Nations wanted to loan resources to the Peruvian government in order to replicate the programs in other prisons in the country. The World Bank also wanted to extend the educational programs being afforded the prisoners at Quencoro. Arnal had virtually no track record of photographing in prisons but the assignment opened his eyes and heart.

“I wanted to document the hardships and (if there was any to see) the positive aspects of prison life. To tell the story of the daily lives in a prison on the Altiplano of Peru. I did not anticipate what I was going to find at all, but once I was inside I was inspired by what I saw,” says Arnal.

Read our Q&A and see Arnal’s photographs large at VantageThat Souvenir Andean Rug of Yours? Woven by a Prisoner in Peru, Probably

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I’m one of the critically massive pool of jurors for this years Critical Mass. I take bribes like FIFA.

The 4-week Robert Rauschenberg Foundation sounds sick!

The blurb:

Registration is now open for Photolucida’s Critical Mass competition! Awards include a monograph prize, a solo exhibition at Blue Sky Gallery, a group exhibition juried by Alison Nordström, and a prestigious four-week artist’s residency at the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation’s Captiva Island estate.

Registration deadline is July 28th

Image: Brandon Thibodeaux, Maw Maw’s New Braids, Duncan, MS 2009. (Source)

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