You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Activist Art’ category.


Be Their Megaphone

At 5 o’clock on Friday evening, advocates for juvenile justice system reform are marching on the General Assembly in Richmond, Virginia. You can join them.

The Justice Parade for Incarcerated Youth will present, to the powers that be, the work produced by incarcerated youth this summer, as part of the Performing Statistics project. In the parade, a broad coalition of artists, legal and policy experts, community activists, faith leaders and returning citizens will champion the work. It’ll bring art onto the streets and ask the public to imagine a society without prisons for children.

Take drums, banners, trumpets, instruments, foghorns and your loudest songs and chants.

Carry art and banners made by incarcerated youth. Be their presence on the streets.

Take your own signs that answer the question, “How can we create a world where no youth are locked up?”




Friday, October 2 at 5 p.m. Speakers at 5:30 p.m. Walking begins at 5:45 p.m.


General Assembly Building 915 E. Broad Street, Richmond, VA 23219.

Parade goes from the General Assembly Building to the ATLAS gallery at the ART 180 art center for teens and youth. ATLAS is currently showing the Performing Statistics exhibition featuring creative work by incarcerated youth that talks about their experiences being incarcerated and alternatives to the system.

Be Their Megaphone





Mark Strandquist
 — 703-798-6379

Trey Hartt — 

Performing Statistics is a Richmond-based art and advocacy project that connects incarcerated teens, artists, and Virginia’s top legal experts. The project is part of Legal Aid Justice Center’s RISE For Youth campaign.

Be Their Megaphone




On the 13th October, the Supreme Court of the United States will convene to rule on Montgomery v Louisiana. Essentially, the decision will be made as to whether the ban on Juvenile Life Without the Possibility of Parole (handed down by Miller v Alabama in 2012) should apply retroactively. That is, should men who were tried as adults and convicted to LWOP before 2012 have their cases and sentences re-adjudicated?

Of course, I hope that we’ll see some return to common sense and see the United Sates turn toward the practices of the rest of the industrialised world by not putting kids in boxes for the rest of their natural lives.

At this crucial political moment, a new, interactive  archive has launched online that brings the stories, images, characters and history of JLWOP to you.

The Natural Life Archive is a collection of extended interviews and portraits from the film Natural Life. Filmmaker Tirtza Even is harnessing the internet to bring us dozens of hours of testimony that she just wasn’t able to fit into her film. The archive is the third and final component of Natural Life — 1. the feature length single-channel video; 2. a gallery installation; and 3. this interactive online archive.



The project, produced and directed by Tirtza Even alongside the legal efforts of the Law Offices of Deborah LaBelle, challenges inequities in the U.S. juvenile justice system by depicting, through documentation and reenactment, the stories of five individuals who were sentenced to Life Without Parole (Natural Life) for crimes they committed as youth. The five will never be evaluated for change, difference or growth. They will remain in prison till they die.


There are over 2500 inmates in the U.S. who are serving a Life Without Parole sentence for a crime they committed as juveniles. The U.S. is the only country in the world that allows Life Without Parole sentencing for youth. The project’s goal is to portray the ripple-effect that the sentence has had not only on the incarcerated youth and their victims, but also on the community at large.

The video data accessible through the online archive is interfaced through a two-tiered navigable Quicktime movie. On the lower tier are phone interviews with the featured characters, coupled with staged scenes of life in prison reenacted by a group of high-school actors, and shot at an abandoned prison in Michigan. On the tier above is material drawn from over 50 hours of interviews with individuals who were involved with the crime, the arrest and the sentencing of the featured inmates. Among them judges, lawyers, police officers, reporters, wardens, teachers, child psychiatrists, legal experts and victims’ family members. The interviews are grouped in association with each of the featured inmates’ stories and are selected by moving the cursor to the right or left side of the image.



Tirtza Even is a practicing video artist and documentary maker, producing both linear and interactive documentary video work that represents the less overt manifestations of complex and sometimes extreme social/political dynamics in specific locations (e.g. Palestine, Turkey, Spain, the U.S. and Germany, among others). Even’s work has appeared at the Museum of Modern Art, NY, at the Whitney Biennial, the Johannesburg Biennial, as well as in many other festivals, galleries and museums in the United States, Israel and Europe, and has been purchased for the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art (NY), the Jewish Museum (NY), the Israel Museum (Jerusalem), among others.

Deborah LaBelle is an attorney, professor, writer and advocate who focuses on the application of human rights for marginalized communities. She has been lead counsel in over a dozen class actions that have successfully challenged policies affecting the treatment of incarcerated men, women and juveniles and their families. Ms. LaBelle is a Senior Soros Justice Fellow and, the first American recognized by Human Rights Watch as a Human Rights Monitor. In addition to her private practice, she is director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Juvenile Life Without Parole Initiative. Ms. LaBelle is a recipient of Michigan’s State Bar Champion of Justice Award, recognized as one of Michigan’s top lawyers and received the National Trial Lawyer of the Year Award from the Public Interest Foundation (2008) and National Lawyer Guild’s Law for the People Award (2008). She received the Wade Hampton McCree Jr. Award for the advancement of social justice presented by the Federal Bar (2009) and the Susan B. Anthony Award from the University of Michigan (2010).


photo-21 copy

Set photo, from the filming of Demos: Wapato Correctional Facility. © ERNEST

In the northern reaches of Portland Oregon, in the quieter quarters of the St. John’s neighbourhood, sleeps a beast. Wapato Jail was built for $58 million but never opened. It has sat vacant since 2004. It has been used as a film set. They tried to sell it. At one point, the City of Portland put out an open call for alternative uses proposals. Some suggested it could be used as a garden and rehabilitation center. Others suggested it could be used to house Bush, Cheney and other war criminals.

Wapato has costs the tax payer $300,000 per year (a conservative estimate) to just keep the thing offline. One long expensive joke. Systems normal but never operational.

WapatoSysNormal copy

WildlifeVideoStill copy

Demos: Wapato Correctional Facility, video still, 2015. © ERNEST

WapatoMapAngle copy

Screengrab of a Google Maps angled, aerial view of Wapato Jail, looking northwest.


When the arts organisation c3:initiative moved into St. John’s in 2014 it didn’t take them long to turn its focus to the empty jail. c3:initiative sponsored artist collective ERNEST as artists-in-residence. ERNEST have produced a multi-medium art installation, film, a book and public programs.

Demos: Wapato Correctional Facility probes the many concerns that the vacant jail suggests: breakdowns in democracy, prevailing power structures,” reads the exhibition statement.

During ERNEST’s early research they discovered that coyotes had dug under many fences. Video footage shows that they will scale fences too to cross and inhabit the lush ground within the jail perimeter. These wily mammals, that have roamed the area far longer than the jail has stood, have found a way to ignore the unwelcome interruption of a hard and fast boondoggle. Coyotes continue their evolved routine and instead of fighting the jail just orient themselves around it. Ultimately, they operate to ignore the jail’s presence and minimise it’s impact on their rhythms.

Is the coyote a good metaphor? Might we find new solutions to old problems if we approach prisons, jails and social ills with a similar low-key pragmatism. Prisons might be the problem but so to might our strategies of opposition?

“Acting as a conjuror of sorts, the character of Coyote leads the video component of Demos, transforming the specific architecture, history and politics of Wapato Jail into a platform for conversation and collaboration,” says the press release.

While ERNEST are allied to prison reform and abolition arguments, their work doesn’t necessary look like the typically political and didactic protest-imagery. Bringing the subtlety of fine art to a brutish topic such as the abusive prison industrial complex is intriguing. I don’t know what to expect truthfully, which is why I am in Portland right now for tomorrow’s opening.


Friday, September 18, 6:30-9:30pm
At c3:initiative, 7326 N. Chicago Avenue, Portland 97203.

Visitors are invited to join c3:initiative and the artists from ERNEST in marking the opening of Demos: Wapato Correctional Facility. Complimentary drinks and light refreshments will be served.

WapatoCoyoteEye copy

A graphic by ERNEST from an early conceptualisation stages of the project Demos.

KitchenVideoStill copy

Demos: Wapato Correctional Facility, video still, 2015. © ERNEST

CoyoteStampedeVideoStill copy

Demos: Wapato Correctional Facility, video still, 2015. © ERNEST


The project’s title takes its meaning from various interpretations of the word “demos”. The Greek word “demos” (pronounced “day-moss”), refers to the “village” or “people.” In English, “demo”, is used as a shorthand for “demonstration”, as reference to the “demo mix-tape”, or as the vernacular for “demolition”. ERNEST thus uses “demos” to refer to its interest in keeping their methods experimental and provisional, while creating opportunities for local participatory engagement.


The book, published by Container Corps, includes a collection of essays, artworks, research and primary documents. I have an essay in there about sketches made in solitary by a man named Ernest Jerome DeFrance.

The book’s contents are both specific to Wapato Correctional Facility, and related to general issues of incarceration, participatory citizenship, and the role of art in social justice and storytelling.


I’ll also be in the room for an open roundtable conversation — a broadened investigation of themes relating to the empty jail facility, both locally and nationally.

Saturday, September 19, 2015, 11am-1pm. Followed by a 12-1pm community meal and conversation.

I look forward to hearing from panelists:

Emanuel Price is the Founder and current Executive Director of Second Chances Are For Everyone in Portland, OR. S.C.A.F.E. works to reduce the rate of recidivism by providing support services to promote employment, empowerment, and community engagement for men in transition because Second Chances are for Everyone. Price is currently leading the organization in developing key programs and resources that will help reduce criminals going back into destructive lifestyles after being released from jail or prison. More information about Price is available here.

Melissa Salazar is a May 2015 graduate of Pacific Northwest College of Art, where she studied Communication Design. Melissa has recently become involved in activist work focusing primarily on incarceration of black and brown individuals. She has been influenced by events in her own life and seeks to bring awareness to an invisible society behind bars.

Yaelle Amir is a curator, writer and researcher who currently holds the position of Curator at Newspace Center for Photography in Portland, OR. Her writing and curatorial projects focus primarily on artists whose practices supplement the initiatives of existing social movements, rendering themes within those struggles in ways that both interrogate and promote these issues to a wider audience. She has curated exhibitions at Artists Space, CUE Art Foundation, Center for Book Arts, ISE Cultural Foundation, The Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts, Marginal Utility, and the Wallach Art Gallery at Columbia University, among others. Her writing has appeared in numerous art publications includingArt in America, ArtLies, ArtSlant, ArtUS, Beautiful/Decay, and Sculpture Magazine. She has also worked at major art institutions, such as the International Center of Photography, the Museum of Modern Art, and NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts.

WapatoExercise copy

Members of ERNEST tour the gymnasium in the empty Wapato Jail, Portland, OR.

BedCountingDormStill copy

Demos: Wapato Correctional Facility, video still, 2015. © ERNEST

WapatoBeds copy

Photo taken in Wapato Jail, Portland, OR as part of ERNEST’s early research.

HallwayVideoStill copy

Demos: Wapato Correctional Facility, video still, 2015. © ERNEST


Demos: Wapato Correctional Facility
A project by ERNEST
September 18–November 22, 2015
Gallery Hours: Fri–Sun, noon–5pm at c3:initiative, 7326 N. Chicago Avenue, Portland 97203.


Reading Group: The New Jim Crow – Wednesdays, October 7, 14, 21, 7:00-8:30pm
Stories in Movement – Saturday, November 7, 5:00pm
No Thank You Democracy, The politics of non-participation, by Ariana Jacob – Sunday, November 22, 4:30pm.



There’s a host of indicators that prison reform is firmly established near the top of the national agenda. In politics, journalism, art and culture the urgent voices and battles that constitute the discussion and solution-finding around mass incarceration are getting an airing they’ve not enjoyed during the past four decades of unfettered prison growth.

The battles brought by anti-prison activists and families (alongside the soul-searching among the rest of us) may define this moment. There’s a long, long way to go to reverse 40 years of failed policy, but it can only be done … incrementally, faithfully and with a long-view.

The Artist As Activist Fellowship program recently announced by the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation (RFF) could be part of a continued movement toward justice and toward national healing. Specifically, the RRF wants to support projects that “address racial justice through the lens of mass incarceration.”

There are more-and-more funding opportunities for artists looking at prisons, abolition and racial discrimination. I don’t have time to flag them all, but for this one I had to take pause. The size of this grant is quite remarkable. There’s been a couple of $15K and $25K offerings recently, but the RRF just upped the ante.


You have until December 7th to argue your case for 100,000 USD in support.


Of the 2.2 million people currently in American prisons or jails, 1 million are African American. This rate of incarceration is a 500% increase over the past 30 years, and if current trends continue, one in three black males born today can expect to spend time in prison during his lifetime. Nationwide, African Americans represent 26% of juvenile arrests, 44% of youth who are detained, and 58% of the youth admitted to state prisons.

This constitutes an epidemic. Particularly so given mass incarceration’s intersection with wealth inequality and economic justice, voting rights, immigration rights, access to affordable housing, and inequitable educational policies. It is exhausting to unravel the complexity of this issue, let alone to design ways to dismantle the social and economic structures that produced mass incarceration as a phenomenon. Yet that is the task before all of us, one that requires an army of creative thinkers.


The 2016 Artist as Activist Fellowship provides the opportunity for creative professionals who are committed to making meaningful progress towards ending mass incarceration to seek a robust set of resources to advance their work. RRF believes that, at their best, art and artists are disruptive. The very nature of being a compelling artist is to generate new thinking and inspire new ways of being, whether through fostering empathy or by proposing radical alternatives to our current systems. If a new world is possible, it is the minds of artists, designers, culture bearers, and other creative professionals who will call it forth.


The Robert Rauschenberg Foundation fosters the legacy of the artist’s life, work, and philosophy that art can change the world. The foundation supports initiatives at the intersection of arts and issues that embody the fearlessness, innovation, and multidisciplinary approach that Robert Rauschenberg exemplified in both his art and philanthropic endeavors.



212 228 5283

Robert Rauschenberg Foundation
381 Lafayette Street
New York
NY 10003-7022


Robert Rauschenberg, Poster for CORE (Congress of Racial Equality), 1965 (detail). Silkscreen print with varnish overlay, 35 7/8 x 23 7/8 inches.


For a short run, Prison Obscura is on show at the University of Michigan. We installed in a marathon effort this week and opened yesterday. You have until 24th September to catch it!

Most proud of my installation of Brown/Coleman v Plata evidence images (above). The gallery has huge front-facing windows, I had 400+ pages of court documents!

Official installation shots are to be made next week, but I wanted to get this announcement up.


I’m also talking today:



Friday, September 11, 1:00 – 4:00pm

Curator Talk followed by symposium Carcereal Visions: The Prison as Image/Object/Limit. A round table discussion featuring UM faculty Amanda Alexander, Ashley Lucas, Carol Jacobsen, Reuben Miller, Ruby Tapia, Heather Thompson, Isaac Wingfield.


Duderstadt Center Gallery
North Campus
2281 Bonisteel Blvd
Ann Arbor
MI 48109
Hours: Noon – 6pm, Mon-Fri, Noon – 5pm, Sun.


Alyse Emdur’s collected letters and prison visiting- room portraits from across the nation and Robert Gumpert’s recorded audio stories from within the San Francisco jail system provide an opportunity to see, read and listen to subjects in the contexts of their incarceration. Juvenile and adult prisoners in different workshops led by Steve Davis, Mark Strandquist and Kristen S. Wilkinsperform for the camera, reflect on their past, describe their memories, and represent themselves through photography.

Prison Obscura moves from these intimate portrayals of life within the prison system to more expansive views of legal and spatial surveillance in such works as Josh Begley’s manipulated Google Maps’ API code and Paul Rucker’s animated videos, which offer a “celestial” view of the growth of the prison system.


Installation shot of Paul Rucker’s Proliferation


U-Mich is the fifth venue for Prison Obscura, after outings at Haverford, Scripps, Rutgers and Parsons.


Prison Obscura is a traveling exhibition made possible with the support of the edits John B. Hurford ’60 Center for the Arts and Humanities and Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery at Havorford College, Haverford, Pennslyvania.

It is sponsored by the University of Michigan’s Departments of Women’s Studies and English, Institute for Research on Women and Gender, Prison Creative Arts Project, Institute for the Humanities and the LSA Dean’s Office.

Also, the U-Mich campus is architecturally trippy. Here, the Lurie Tower which wouldn’t be out of place on a sci-fi movie set.



Contact Ruby Tapia, Associate Professor of English and Women’s Studies, at, or Kathi Reister, Gallery Coordinator at


Shadae Schmidt died in the Secure Housing Unit (SHU) of California Institute for Women (CIW) on 13th March, 2014.

“I went to borrow scissors from the cops last week, and I was told that they don’t lend out scissors anymore because they have special industrial scissors now for cutting down bodies. He showed them to me. That’s how normal this is. […] We have women dropping like flies and not one person has been questioned as to why we believe they are killing themselves. I have been down almost 20 years and I have never seen anything like this. Ever.”

– Letter from prisoner at California Institute for Women (CIW) 3/21/15

In April of this year, the California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP) provided California Senator Mark Leno with a memo RE: “Female offenders” and medical and mental health care neglect. It opened with quotes that female prisoners had provided CCWP in hundreds of in-person interviews and letters.

“Medical care here is very poor. Inmates are treated like animal. Period. We’re looked at as if we’re not human beings.” and “I’ve gone back to medical for the same issue over a 100 times. So that they can get the $5 co-pay that I don’t have to give.” and “I feel they do not care…it’s my fault or I’m lying about being paralyzed…I had to ‘prove’ I was incontinent. They made me urinate in bed. They would not give me enough catheters.”

Medical care is dire. Mental-healthcare is desperate. Four women have killed themselves at CIW in San Bernardino County in the last 18 months. The suicide rate at the facility is more than eight times the national rate for female prisoners and more than five times the rate for the California prison system as a whole.

Before the recent surge, there were three suicides at CIW in 14 years.

Leno, a Democrat, has been one of the most progressive voices in the Golden State when it comes to prison reforms. It was hoped that he’d be able to open rigorous inquiries as why women are “dropping like flies”, as to why they were hanging themselves and cutting themselves in record numbers.

CCWP got a read on the mental healthcare provision inside CA prisons through interviews and a survey (conducted in summer 2014) from prisoners in California Correction Women’s Facility (CCWF) and CIW, and others recently released. CCWP found that medical and mental health care access and treatment in Californian women prisons fell well below constitutional standards. Suicide prevention is scarce if not lacking entirely.

The AP reported last month how this is “a shocking turnaround” CIW was cited last year as a rare example of good care of California prisoners.

“The prison’s psychiatric program was promoted as a positive example in May 2014 by Matthew Lopes, a federal court-appointed overseer who monitors mental health treatment for inmates. Of six inpatient programs for mentally ill inmates statewide, he found that only the one at the women’s institution was providing proper care.”

All four women who died at CIW were receiving mental health treatment in the days before their deaths.


COMPSTAT data gathered by the California Department of  CDCR backed up concerns of increased suicides and suicide attempts.

Figures from women’s prisons, over the 13 months 2/14-2/15.

CIW 16 attempted suicides 3
CCWF 7 attempted suicides 0
CMF 20 attempted suicides 1 suicide
FSP 2 attempted suicides 0 suicides

Figures from all men’s prisons not designated “high security” over the 13 months 2/14-2/15.

ASP 5 attempted suicides 0 suicides
CAL 5 attempted suicides 0 suicides
CEN 3 attempted suicides 0 suicides
CTF 6 attempted suicides 0 suicides
CVSP 1 attempted suicide 0 suicides
ISP 5 attempted suicides 0 suicides
MCSP 17 attempted suicides 2 suicides
PVSP 5 attempted suicides 0 suicides
SOL 8 attempted suicides 1 suicide
VSPW 7 attempted suicides 0 suicides

Source: CDCR COMPSTAT DAI Statistical Report.

CIW had more suicides reported by CDCR than any other CA prison in 2014; CIW also had an alarming number of attempted suicides in the same period. CIW had the third highest number of attempted suicides, but the highest rate of suicide attempts when adjusted for population.


Behind these tragic findings are even more tragic deaths. The deaths of Stephanie Felix, Gui Fei Zhang and Shadae Schmidt were reported by some local and solidarity press, but mostly went by unnoticed and, worse, unquestioned. For

Stephanie Felix committed suicide at CIW on 3/9/15, after previous suicide attempts and after asking for emergency mental health care several times, including that very same day. Ms. Felix had been housed in the SCU, but she was placed back in general population where her mental health declined. During a previous suicide attempt, two prisoners performed CPR on her to save her life, despite being told to stop and facing disciplinary consequences for their actions. (Reported to CCWP by letters 3/15)

Gui Fei Zhang, a 73-year-old Chinese woman, committed suicide on 2/17/15 at CIW. She was released from suicide watch back to general population the day before she killed herself. (Reported to CCWP in interviews 4/10/15)

Shadae Schmidt was a 32-year-old African-American woman who died in the CIW SHU on 3/13/14. Shadae had a stroke in February 2014 and was prematurely returned to the SHU. She was given medication that made her sick but her requests for a change in prescription were ignored. CCWP is still waiting to hear any reports of investigations into Shadae’s death. We have noticed that there is one preventable death listed in the CDCR data for the month she died. (Reported to CCWP by family and friends in 2014)

Uncovering the common causation factors between these deaths has been an ongoing concern for CCWP.


CCWP concluded generally that:

• Prisoners in the SHU at CIW report heightened medical and mental health care neglect

• CCWF and CIW have poor records of seeing patients in the period mandated once requests for mental health help are submitted.

• Processing time with mental health clinicians is too short – 15 minutes does not allow for adequate diagnosis, treatment, etc..

• Chronic care patients are required to be seen every 90 days, even though many patients require more medical attention; many chronic care patients are not seen every 90 days.

• Overcrowding at CCWF and CIW is still impacting mental health care access; the SCU at CIW is often overcrowded because of the increasing need for acute mental health care.

• The threat of being moved to the PIP prevents many SCU patients from seeking help.

• Patients in the SCU are increasingly cutting themselves to deal with emotional trauma and/or to get the mental health or medical attention they need.

• If people report suicidality after 2pm, mental health departments are closed and mental health workers retrieve patients from the cages (where suicidal patients are caged and cuffed) to treat patients in the emergency rooms of the medical departments — loud, chaotic environments with no chairs, and little privacy.

Specific to neglectful mental healthcare, CCWP noted that:

• Patients, including those who are very sick and/or disabled, routinely wait outside for scheduled doctor’s appointments for 2 to 5 hours in all weather (including rain and heat alerts). “Too many prisoners, too few doctors,” is the common experience.

• Patients do not feel respected, believed or listened to by their primary doctor. People are often told that they are “lying” when they report on health history, symptoms, or past treatments that have been helpful for them.

• Misdiagnoses are still too common.

• Serious lack of follow-up care after surgeries continues to be a significant problem.

• There are often significant delays in refilling prescribed medications. People are going without life-saving and chronic care medications while they wait.

• Treatment recommendations from specialists are rarely ordered and/or followed by doctors at the prisons.

• Gender non-conforming and transgender prisoners face increased medical and mental health neglect because of discrimination based on their gender non-conforming or transgender status.

• When prisoners file grievances (602s) for medical and mental health neglect, they often experience direct retaliation from healthcare providers and/or further denial of access to care.


Despite decades of lawsuits to remedy prison health care and court orders to reduce prison overcrowding, the inhumane conditions inside CA women’s prisons continue. The CCWP has called for an independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding all deaths at CIW in 2014 and 2015. The CDCR says it is monitoring CIW more closely than any other prison in the system.

CCWP calls, sensibly, for a reduction of overcrowding through the implementation of existing release programs. It also calls for immediate transfer of all prisoners with mental health issues from the SHU.

Solidarity with CA prisoners poster 2

Prisoners in California will no longer be kept in windowless boxes indefinitely. That improves the lives of 3,000 people. It also brings California into line with the practices of virtually all other states. This is landmark.

Many groups were involved in the support of the plaintiffs in the class action suit. Legal Services for Prisoners with Children put out a press release. Below I copy the press release of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity group.


OAKLAND — Today, California prisoners locked in isolation achieved a groundbreaking legal victory in their ongoing struggle against the use of solitary confinement. A settlement was reached in the federal class action suit Ashker v. Brown, originally filed in 2012, effectively ending indefinite long-term solitary confinement, and greatly limiting the prison administration’s ability to use the practice, widely seen as a form of torture. The lawsuit was brought on behalf of prisoners held in Pelican Bay State Prison’s infamous Security Housing Units (SHU) for more than 10 years, where they spend 23 hours a day or more in their cells with little to no access to family visits, outdoor time, or any kind of programming.

“From the historic prisoner-led hunger strikes of 2011 and 2013, to the work of families, loved ones, and advocate, this settlement is a direct result of our grassroots organizing, both inside and outside prison walls,” said Dolores Canales of California Families Against Solitary Confinement (CFASC), and mother of a prisoner in Pelican Bay. “This legal victory is huge, but is not the end of our fight – it will only make the struggle against solitary and imprisonment everywhere stronger.” The 2011 and 2013 hunger strikes gained widespread international attention that for the first time in recent years put solitary confinement under mainstream scrutiny.

Hunger-Strike-suspension-1st-anniversary-Mosswood-Park-Amphitheater-Oakland-090614-by-Lucas-Guilkey-web 4

Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity (PHSS) coalition members commemorating the first anniversary of the 2013 hunger strike suspension.

Currently, many prisoners are in solitary because of their “status” – having been associated with political ideologies or gang affiliation. However, this settlement does away with the status-based system, leaving solitary as an option only in cases of serious behavioral rule violations. Furthermore, the settlement limits the amount of time a prisoner may be held in solitary, and sets a two year Step-Down Program for the release of current solitary prisoners into the prison general population.

It is estimated that between 1,500 and 2,000 prisoners will be released from SHU within one year of this settlement. A higher security general population unit will be created for a small number of cases where people have been in SHU for more than 10 years and have a recent serious rule violation.

“Despite the repeated attempts by the prison regime to break the prisoners’ strength, they have remained unified in this fight,” said Marie Levin of CFASC and sister of a prisoner representative named in the lawsuit. “The Agreement to End Hostilities and the unity of the prisoners are crucial to this victory, and will continue to play a significant role in their ongoing struggle.” The Agreement to End Hostilities is an historic document put out by prisoner representatives in Pelican Bay in 2012 calling on all prisoners to build unity and cease hostilities between racial groups.


Drawn by Michael D. Russell, Pelican Bay SHU

Prisoner representatives and their legal counsel will regularly meet with California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation officials as well as with Federal Magistrate Judge Nandor Vadas, who is tasked with overseeing the reforms, to insure that the settlement terms are being implemented.

“Without the hunger strikes and without the Agreement to End Hostilities to bring California’s prisoners together and commit to risking their lives— by being willing to die for their cause by starving for 60 days, we would not have this settlement today,” said Anne Weills of Siegel and Yee, co-counsel in the case. “It will improve the living conditions for thousands of men and women and no longer have them languishing for decades in the hole at Pelican Bay.”

“This victory was achieved by the efforts of people in prison, their families and loved ones, lawyers, and outside supporters,” said the prisoners represented in the settlement in a joint statement. “We celebrate this victory while at the same time, we recognize that achieving our goal of fundamentally transforming the criminal justice system and stopping the practice of warehousing people in prison will be a protracted struggle.”

Dare to Struggle_Carlos Ramirez_Pelican Bay

Drawn by Carlos Ramirez while in Pelican Bay SHU

Legal co-counsel in the case includes California Prison Focus, Siegel & Yee, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, Weil Gotshal & Manges LLP, Chistensen O’Connor Johnson Kindness PLLC, and the Law Offices of Charles Carbone. The lead counsel is the Center for Constitutional Rights. The judge in the case is Judge Claudia Wilken in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California.

A rally and press conference are set for 12pm in front of the Elihu M Harris State Building in Oakland, which will be livestreamed at

The settlement can be read on CCR’s website, along with a summary. CCR has also put up downloadable clips of the plaintiffs’ depositions here.


By Chris Garcia, drawn while in Pelican Bay SHU.


Susan Stellin and Graham MacIndoe are raising money to fund the exhibition of their project American Exile at Photoville this autumn.


American Exile is a series of photographs and interviews documenting the stories of immigrants who have been ordered deported from the United States, as well as their family members – often, American citizens – who suffer the consequences of the harsh punishment and are sometimes forever separated from a parent or partner transported to foreign lands.

These are people who, ostensibly, have — just as you or I — lived, worked and paid taxes in the U.S. for extended periods. Bar fights that occurred 20 years ago, Visa paperwork deadlines missed, and other minor matters have sometimes led to deportation.

The tumorous growth America’s prison industrial complex goes back four decades whereas the focus of Graham and Susan’s work — the establishment of an extended archipelago of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facilities — is a much more recent, post 9/11 phenomenon. It is utterly contemporary and it meets the desperate need for journalism that probes ICE procedures.


MacIndoe spent five months in immigration detention in 2010, facing deportation because of a misdemeanor conviction – despite living in the U.S. as a legal permanent resident since 1999. After winning his case, he and Susan began gathering stories of families caught up in deportation proceedings, including asylum seekers, green card holders, and immigrants trapped in the bureaucracy of adjusting a visa.

I love Graham and Susan. They have a very comfortable couch. We’ve been friends for several years. Susan has a keen sense of justice and nous for a story and the will to bend an industry to our needs, not its. Graham is an addict who got clean, a street shooter, an artist, a great teacher (by all accounts) and a bit of a curmudgeon for all the right reasons.


Iris-&-Philippe copy


Graham MacIndoe is a photographer and an adjunct professor of photography at Parsons The New School in New York City. Born in Scotland, he received a master’s degree in photography from the Royal College of Art in London and has shot editorial and advertising campaigns worldwide. He is represented by Little Big Man Gallery in Los Angeles, and his work is in many public and private collections. Follow Graham on Instagram and Twitter.

Susan Stellin has been a freelance reporter since 2000, contributing articles to The New York Times, New York, The Guardian, and many other newspapers and magazines. She has worked as an editor at The New York Times and is a graduate of Stanford University.

In 2014, Susan and Graham were awarded a fellowship from the Alicia Patterson Foundation for their project, American Exile, and are collaborating on a joint memoir that will be published by Random House (Ballantine) in 2016.



prisonphotography [at] gmail [dot] com


Prison Photography Archives

Post Categories


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,854 other followers