In 2008, Tim Gruber embedded at the Kentucky State Reformatory to photograph in the geriatric wing designated for elderly and terminally ill patients. The result is Served Out, a photography and multimedia project. Here, I featured six images included in the PPOTR/Cruel and Unusual exhibition, but you should check out Tim and Jenn’s website for more stellar images.
Both Tim and his wife Jenn Ackerman worked in KSR the same summer. Tim is unequivocal: their access was down to then-Warden Larry Chandler’s good grace and good sense. Chandler wanted people to see how their tax dollars were spent and understood photography as part of the transparency he insisted on for the institution. KSR even gave weekly tours of its facilities.
Tim and Jenn, after brief training, were given staff-badges and were free to go about their work in the prison. They moved down to La Grange, KY for the summer to make the project and it wasn’t easy; Tim blogged some of the challenges (one, two, three, four, five.)
When we spoke last October, Gruber was in discussion with the ACLU. Last month, his images were used to illustrate the ACLU’s latest report ‘At America’s Expense: The Mass Incarceration of the Elderly‘ (Tim’s announcement.)
Of course, the common knowledge of the problems of incarcerating the elderly shaped our discussion. From the ACLU report:
Over the last 25 years, state corrections spending grew by 674%, substantially outpacing the growth of other government spending, and becoming the fourth-largest category of state spending. [...] It costs $34,135 per year to house an average prisoner, but it costs $68,270 per year to house a prisoner age 50 and older. to put that number into context, the average American household makes about $40,000 a year in income.
In 1981, there were 8,853 state and federal prisoners age 55 and older. today, that number stands at 124,900, and experts project that by 2030 this number will be over 400,000, amounting to over one-third of prisoners in the United states. in other words, the elderly prison population is expected to increase by 4,400% over this fifty-year time span. this astronomical projection does not even include prisoners ages 50-54, for which data over time is harder to access.
The U.S. keeps elderly men and women locked up despite an abundance of evidence demonstrating that recidivism drops dramatically with age. For example, in new York, only 7% of prisoners released from prison at ages 50-64 returned to prison for new convictions within three years. that number drops to 4% for prisoners age 65 and older.
But, also, Tim and I talked about the emotions and first-hand experiences statistics don’t capture – the need for alternative imagery of prisoners and their humanity; what it was like to work on the wings, sit with the men and witness death (“Tears would overwhelm me”); compassionate release, prisoner-volunteer medical assistants and how Tim’s imagery may effect change.