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At first glance, the image above looks like the usual press photograph of a suspect accompanied to the stand, being escorted between holding cells and a courtroom. Alternatively, it could be a scene from inside a jail. Jumpsuit, shackles and guards are glaring visual clues and we think we know what we are seeing. But, in most cases w edon’t. And in this case were aren’t. This is a photo from the set of the in-production movie wHole, for which filming began last month at the vacant Wapato Jail in Portland, Oregon.
wHole, made by Think Ten Media and directed by Ramon Hamilton (who is actually to the left in this picture) aims to raise awareness about the sensory deprivation and widespread use of solitary confinement in American today. The limited information this fictional scene provides us is akin to the limited visual information available to us generally of solitary confinement in America’s prisons. (Aside of photography, we must recognise there is currently a good swell of great advocacy journalism about solitary, not least by Solitary Watch).
Even though Wapato was designed as a medium-level-security county jail. Think Ten Media thought it a worthy location for depicting Supermax facilities. wHole might be the only good thing to come out of this waste of space and money.
In 1996, the taxpayers of Multnomah County (Portland, Oregon) approved a bond measure to build a 168,420-square-foot, 525-bed jail back, but county leaders never set aside money to open and operate it. Construction was completed ten years ago at a total cost of $58M. Wapato was a bad idea to start with, but changes in legislation and a drop in crime proved it a terrible idea. The jail never went into operation. Don’t get me wrong, it is a good thing that no-one has been locked up at Wapato, but it is a terrible thing that it was built in the first place. What could have that $58M (plus the $3M of tax payers money spent over the past decade to merely to maintain the place) achieved in terms of rehabilitation, jobs training and addiction treatment?
Last year, sensible suggestions such as repurposing the jail as a drug rehab center, a homeless shelter or a community center were invoked but didn’t develop. More recently, the county made concerted efforts to sell the jail and get it off the books. In a typical Portlandish well-meaning, transparent but somewhat comic and farce-like public relations stutter, the county called for proposals from companies and citizens alike and then promptly rejected them. The proposals? Some people wanted to make a community garden for at-risk youth, other a prison for international war criminals. A TV production company wanted to make a reality TV show and a private prison firm wanted to use it and use it for you can guess what.
There has been a persistent myth in Portland that Wapato sat empty and was never used for any type of revenue raising, including the exploitation of opportunities presented by the many production companies wanting to film at Wapato. That’s simply not true. Maybe, more filming and more money could’ve been supported, yet, speculation aside and to date, wHole is the 32nd project filmed there int he past 6 years.
That wHole is about mass incarceration makes it, in my book, the most worthy of projects. When the nearly two-month-long California Prisoner Hunger Strike kicked off in the summers of 2011 and 2013, filmmakers Ramon Hamilton and Jennifer Fischer knew they wanted to make a project about solitary. wHole is intended to be “raw and real.”
The locals are excited about the future impact of wHole, which is a far cry from Orange is the New Black. While no mainstream TV show has depicted prisoners so sympathetically, Orange Is The New Black carries its fictional aspects and as such doesn’t reflect reality.
I wanted to know more about how you get into a jail to film and so asked Jennifer Fischer, Think Ten Media co-founder, a few questions.
Scroll down for our Q&A and then further still for more information on the project.
Q & A
Prison Photography (PP): How many vacant jails or prisons are there in the U.S. in which to make feature films or TV series?
Jennifer Fischer (JF): I am not sure. I know Fred C. Nelles Youth Correctional Facility is used often for filming by productions in the Los Angeles Area. I believe Hancock shot there, and there’s lots going on with it right now.
PP: Why did you choose Wapato?
JF: There was really nothing like Wapato Jail that was reasonable in terms of cost. There is a facility in New Jersey I recall Five mentioning to me. I lost all of my research notes about prison locations when my hard drive crashed recently!
We looked into shooting at Nelles and at other locations, but all were prohibitively expensive for our project being made on a limited budget. There were other challenges, such as no running water or electricity, the requirement of a water truck on site.
Some active prisons and jails are often used for filming! But with these locations, if they need the cell you are shooting in, you get booted. At Wapato we’d have access to the entire facility.
PP: How was the process to secure use of the facility?
To secure the facility, we had to speak with Mark Gustafson, who is the property manager. He had a few questions, but the process was really pretty simple. The important thing was getting the correct insurance. Here’s the county’s property management webpage for Wapato jail.
PP: Were the rates reasonable?
JF: Yes, the rates are quite reasonable, basically covering the cost to operate — security guard on site, opening and closing of the facility and any janitorial costs incurred from our use.
In fact, we initially went up to Portland because of the [relatively low] cost of the facility. Before we went we were still considering building a cell somewhere in L.A. when the whole series was greenlit.
However, given how wonderful and support everyone in Portland was and how professional the local cast and crew were, we are now absolutely committed to being back in Portland at Wapato to shoot the entire show.
Scroll down for more info on the film and links to production photos.
Filming the filmers.
A cell doubles as a make-up room.
Filming inside a cell.
wHole draws on the intimate knowledge of two people who have been incarcerated.
Actor William Brown plays the protagonist in wHole. He has served time in prison. Fischer and Hamilton connected with Brown through Deborah Tobola who runs the Poetic Justice Project, a theater program in California for individuals who have been incarcerated. Tobola and Brown worked together when he was in prison in a program called Arts in Corrections.
Five Mualimmak is a co-producer for the project. Mualimmak also spent time in solitary confinement, 5 years, before he was exonerated. Mualimmak works with the Campaign to End the New Jim Crow and is the Executive Director of the Incarcerated Nation Campaign.
“As I wrote the screenplay, I was in touch with Five throughout,” explains Hamilton who is the series writer and director. “I want to make sure that viewers get a real sense of what it is like for a person to live in complete isolation for years.”
Mualimmak wrote about Solitary confinement’s “invisible scars” for the Guardian.
In chatting with Fischer, one of the intriguing resources she pointed me toward was the set photography for wHole. I’ve included some of my preferred shots thorughout this post.
View images from day one, day two, day three and day four. Perhaps most interesting are photos made by crew of the facility’s control room, surveillance systems and control boards.
Five Mualimmak, who spent 5 years of his 12 prison term in solitary confinement, before being exonerated is co-producer on wHole. Above, he plays a prison guard.
Lunch on set
Looks depressingly accurate.
Downloading the day’s footage in the control room.
wHole was made in partnership with American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, the American Friends Service Committee, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, the United Methodist Church General Board of Church and Society, the Campaign to End the New Jim Crow, Incarcerated Nation Campaign, the Media Change Makers (of the University of Texas-El Paso), SendAPackage.Com, Broken On All Sides, Jail Action Coalition New York City, The Bronx Defenders.
Additionally, Academy Award-Winning Producer Jonathan Sanger is an Executive Producer for the project and Dr. Arvind Singhal is the Entertainment Education Specialist for the project.
In Portland, specifically, the assistance of Jan Elfers, Public Policy Director at Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, and Shannon Wright, Deputy Director of the Partnership for Safety and Justice was crucial.
All images courtesy of Think Ten Media and William Meeker.
A few months ago, I shared an announcement for the ‘Marking Time’ Prison Arts and Activism Conference, organised by the Institute for Research on Women (IRW) at Rutgers University.
Earlier this week, IRW announced the schedule for the October 8the -10th conference. On it are some inspiring artists whose work I’ve long admired from distance. Great line up.
I’m also pleased to mention that I’ll be moderating a panel, the proposal for which, for your informations, I have copy&pasted below.
Panel: Imagery and Prisons: Engaging and Persuading Audiences
We produce and consume an enormous quantity of images each day (350 million photos are uploaded daily to Facebook alone and the average person sees 5,000 advertisements per day). While images often reify stereotypes and social causality, many artists are creating and distributing photographs or disrupting dominant visual culture in hopes of supporting or instigating prison activism and reform. By looking at three practitioners with distinct approaches, audiences and strategies, this panel will explore the power, limitations, and corresponding ethics of visual activism. What images do citizens have access to? Who controls cliche and motif? What new images of prisons and prisoners need to be made? How can collaborative modes of producing and understanding images be catalysts for collective action? How can photography get past its role as mere documentation of prisons to help create visions for alternatives to incarceration?
Across New York City, Lorenzo Steele Jr. exhibits photographs he made during his work as a correctional officer deep in Rikers Island. At church groups, in parking lots, in schools, and during summer community days, Steele brings graphic imagery directly to multiple generations within the catchment area of Rikers. Steele’s presentations are accompanied by a number of workshops on conflict reconciliation, criminal justice and community.
Gregory Sale has produced longterm large scale projects that with significant institutional support have managed to bring together many disparate constituencies orbiting the criminal justice world. Sale’s “It’s Not All Black & White” made a conscious effort to wrestle the visual motifs and cliche of crime (striped jumpsuits, pink underwear and even brown skin) that Arizona’s infamous Sheriff Joe Arpaio has manipulated for his own political advantage.
Mark Strandquist works with communities to create photographs requested by prisoners (“If you could have a window in your cell, what place from your past would it look out to?”). After sending images to the corresponding prisoners, the photographs are exhibited and expanded upon through extensive public programing that brings students, policy makers, former prisoners, and many others together to engage with the causes, effects, and alternatives to mass incarceration.
Moderator, Pete Brook will ask the panelists which approaches have worked and which have not. What presentations of material have engaged and persuaded audiences? What different expectations and needs do audiences have which we as artists and activists must consider?
Gregory Sale is multidisciplinary, socially-engaged artist, whose work investigates issues of incarceration, citizenship, visual culture and emotional territories. In 2011, Sale orchestrated It’s Not All Black & White, a three-month residency exhibition at ASU Art Museum in Tempe, AZ. 52 programmed events brought together a wide array of constituencies including incarcerated persons, their families, parolees, ex-convicts, correctional officers, elected officials, government employees, members of the community, media representatives, artists, and researchers. It considered the cultural, social and personal issues at stake in the day-to-day workings of the criminal justice system in Arizona. Sale’s most recent project, Sleepover grapples with the challenges of individuals reentering society after periods of incarceration.
Sale is the recipient of a Creative Capital Grant in Emerging Fields (2013) and an Art Matters Grant (2014) . In summer 2012, as a resident artist at Yaddo in Saratoga Springs, NY, and at VCCA in Amherst, VA, Sale’s work has appeared in museums nationwide including the Ackland Art Museum, UNC-Chapel Hill and the Cheekwood Museum of Art, Nashville. Sale is Assistant Professor of Intermedia and Public Practice at Arizona State University in Tempe, AZ. Before that he served as the Visual Arts Director for Arizona Commission on the Arts, the Curator of Education at ASU Art Museum, and as a public art project manager for the Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture.
Lorenzo Steele Jr. is a former New York City Correction Officer. He worked for 12 years at Rikers Island, considered by some as the most violent adolescent prison America.
In 2001, Steele founded Future Leaders, a non profit youth that provides workshops, training, education and consultation to children, parents and educators about incarceration and the criminal justice system. Steele has worked as a New York City Board of Education vendor and assisted organizations — such as The Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), United Federation of Teachers (UFT) and the Nassau/Suffolk (BOCES) school district — with workshops on conflict resolution, bullying and literacy. He has also worked with the Brooklyn District Attorneys office providing gang and prison awareness to at-risk youth. He has lectured at college across the New York area. Steele is the recipient of awards from Congressional, Senate, and State Assemblymen for services to the community and to children’s development.
Mark Strandquist is an artist, educator, and organizer. His projects facilitate interactions that incorporate viewers as direct participants and present alternative models for the civic and artistic ways in which we engage the world around us. Each interactive installation functions not as a culmination but as a starting point and catalyst for dialogue, exchange, and community action. While photography is often used, the visual aesthetics and technical mastery of the medium become secondary to the social process through which the images are created, and the social interactions that each exhibition produces.
The ongoing project Some Other Places We’ve Missed: Windows From Prison was awarded the 2014 Society for Photographic Educators’ National Conference Image Maker Award, a Photowings/Ashoka Foundation Insights Changemaker Award, and the VCU Art’s Dean’s Award by juror Lisa Frieman. Strandquist’s projects have been exhibited and presented in museums, film festivals, conferences, print and online magazines, and independent galleries. The project Write Home Soon was exhibited in the 2012-13 international showcase of Socially Engaged Art at the Art Museum of Americas, Washington, DC. The ongoing project, The People’s Library is part of the permanent collection at the Main Branch of the Richmond Public Library and was presented by Strandquist and Courtney Bowles at the 2013 Open Engagement Conference. Strandquist is an adjunct faculty member at the Corcoran College of Art, a teaching artist with the University of Richmond’s Partners in the Arts, a Professional Fellow at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and a Capital Fellow at Provisions Library.
Final Words, launched today, is a sprawling documentary project that focuses on the humanity at center of the death penalty in America. It is the brainchild of photographer Marc Asnin known for his brick of a book Uncle Charlie. Well, this project takes Asnin from the personal to the political, but it is no less massive. Asnin’s got form.
Asnin is asking photographers and non-photographers alike to submit selfies as statements against the death penalty. I’ll get to that in a moment but first the project and the cause.
Final Words is a book and traveling exhibition, featuring the final statements of the 515 prisoners executed by the state of Texas since 1982. Final Words will shape and deliver curricula to American high-schoolers. If we can get the youngest generation talking then perhaps we can engineer a future without the barbaric death penalty?
The project statement explains that more than one person every month for thirty-one years has been executed by the Lone Star State:
Just before the execution is completed, each prisoner is given the opportunity to share their final thoughts. [...] It is their words, their final words in this life, that allow the reader to experience the underlining humanity central to the death penalty debate. [...] Final Words comprises a part of the legacy that will live on beyond us and it will stand as a testament to the kind of society we were—who our criminals were and how we implemented our idea of justice. Final Words interrogates our presuppositions about the death penalty. [...] While this book is a document of death—the death of both the guilty and innocent, the criminals and the victims—it attempts to create a dialogue about life.
All this takes a movement. And money. An IndieGogo campaign will launch in a months time.
The editioned Final Words books will cost a pretty penny. Their sales will help raise money to pump simpler versions of the content and curricula into the bloodstream of the education system.
Each page of the book features a prisoner’s mug shot, their age both at the time of the crime and when they were put to death, a description of the crime for which they stand convicted, and their final words.
Photographers Selfie Against the Death Penalty
In other efforts to corral some cash, Neverland Publications (cofounded by Asnin) and VII Association are collaborating on Photographers Selfie Against the Death Penalty, an international photo campaign to call for an end to executions in America. Highflying pixelmakers & imagershakers will submitting alongside us flailing Instagram plebs.
Note that the word “selfie” is used as a verb. I like that. Jury’s out as to how much a collection of selfies can effect entrenched moral politics, but it’s worth a try. Social media does nothing if not surprise regularly. And besides, all this just gets people talking ahead of Final Words‘ big fundraising campaign that ignites in October.
As the 501c3 sponsor of the project, VII Photo has asked all its photographers to participate in the selfie campaign. Get yourself in there too:
1. Make a selfie, save it to your computer.
2a. Upload selfie to http://www.final-words.org
2b. Fill out form (name, age, email address, location, how you heard about Photographers Selfies Against the Death Penalty, your preferred photography genre)
2c. Personalize your statement against the death penalty, by completing the following “I stand against the death penalty because …” in 140 characters or less.
Go on, selfie against the machine!
[Oh, if you're wondering how and why Asnin and his colleagues have the last statements of 515 men and women, it is because for some reason the state of Texas keeps a public online database of them. Weird, no?!]
The 15th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty takes place in Houston, Texas on Saturday October 25th at 2pm. Details on the exact location in Houston will be announced later.
Two months ago, I published a conversation with Lorenzo Steele, a former NY City Correctional Officer who now gives community talks and makes pop-up street exhibitions of photographs from during his time on Rikers Island. Steele wants to impress upon communities and particularly youngsters how violent jail is.
Steele has produced a video to promote his ongoing work with Behind These Prison Walls. a group he founded to inform, educate, and empower individuals and steer at-risk youth away from the criminal justice system.
California used to be a private prison-free state, but as overcrowding, unconstitutional conditions and budget crises have gripped, Governor Brown and legislators have increasingly turned to the quick-fix of leasing private facilities.
“One out of 10 California inmates is serving time in a leased or private prison,” reports the Los Angeles Times. “Women’s prisons are the most cramped: the Central California Women’s Facility at Chowchilla is listed at 182% capacity in last week’s state prison census report, with 1,600 prisoners more than it was intended to hold.”
The latest addition to California’s archipelago of lockdowns is McFarland Women’s Prison operated by GEO group, one of the two largest private prison corporations in the U.S. This is a backward step, not only because it is the reopening of a prison the state doesn’t need, but because profits will be made off of the back of those imprisoned. GEO Group has a history that includes sexual abuse and poor medical care in its jails and prisons.
Grassroots organising is to protest the new prison at the end of this month. From the organisers:
RALLY AT MCFARLAND PARK, 100 FRONTAGE RD, MCFARLAND, CA, THURSDAY, JULY 31, 2014, 5 PM
Rally against McFarland Women’s Prison the GEO for-profit women’s prison recently opened in McFarland, California. Demand that the CDCR cancel its contract with GEO, release all prisoners through available alternative programs and divert the money being used to fund the prison to community-based services.
We will be linking up in McFarland with the Trail for Humanity, women and children marching across California to demand the protection of immigrant women and their families, comprehensive immigration reform and an end to racial profiling, and with members of the California Prison Moratorium Project who are joining the march.
Car caravan in the Bay Area is leaving from MacArthur BART, at 11 am, Thursday July 31, 2014. Information about other meeting sites to come soon.
For more campaign information and to sign up to caravan to McFarland, go to http://womenprisoners.org/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org or call the California Coalition for Women Prisoners at 415-255-7036 ext. 4.
Women and trans people at two of California’s women’s prisons provided the following statement for our education on the matter.
STOP THE MCFARLAND GEO WOMEN’S PRISON!
We the undersigned incarcerated at Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) and the California Institution for Women (CIW) are outraged that CDCR has signed a contract with the GEO Group, the 2nd largest private, for-profit prison corporation in the U.S. According to the contract, GEO will open a new women’s prison in McFarland, CA by fall of 2014. We call upon California State Legislators to direct CDCR to cancel the contract with GEO and implement existing release programs instead of opening a new prison!
Once again we are shuffled around without regard for our well-being or our human rights. Since VSPW was converted to a men’s prison in January 2013, we have been subjected to overcrowding at historically high levels (CCWF is now at 185% capacity), even while the state is under court order to reduce the prison population. This is discrimination against people in women’s’ prisons! As a result of this overcrowding, health care, mail services, food and education have greatly deteriorated. We are locked down more frequently, leading to heightened tensions, drug overdoses and suicides. The prison staff has responded by locking more people into solitary, further violating our human rights.
CDCR could easily implement existing programs to reduce overcrowding, such as: Alternative Custody Programs (ACP); Elder and Medical Parole; and Compassionate Release. Instead, on April 1, 2014 GEO announced its new contract with CDCR to open a 260 bed women’s prison with an “enhanced rehabilitation and recidivism reduction program.” This is nothing but a bad April Fool’s joke! The 260 women who are “chosen” to go to McFarland could be released through one of these other programs instead. None of us should be hauled off to showcase a so-called “gender responsive” prison and to put money in the pockets of GEO investors.
GEO is a private corporation whose business makes profit from imprisoning primarily people of color and immigrants. GEO’s press release about the new prison reports expected revenue of $9 million in McFarland’s first year. Think of how much $9 million could do for providing community-based re-entry services!
GEO has been the subject of numerous lawsuits around the country about atrocious, unconstitutional conditions. Private prisons are notorious for operating with even greater secrecy than the CDCR: assaults are 49% more frequent; racist behavior and sexual abuse by staff are widespread.
• GEO is responsible for human rights violations at many of their facilities. In 2012 GEO was forced to close the Walnut Grove, Mississippi youth detention Center after being condemned for allowing, in the words of Fed. Judge Carlton Reeves, “a cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts and conditions to germinate, the sum of which places the offenders at substantial ongoing risk..”
• In March 2014, 1200 people detained in GEO’s Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, WA (for immigrants) went on hunger strike to protest the grossly inadequate medical care, exorbitant commissary prices and low or NO pay for work within the center. Other GEO prisoners have since gone on hunger strike at detention facilities in Conroe, Texas and Stewart, Georgia.
• The city of McFarland is located in an area known as an environmental cancer cluster and breeding ground for Valley Fever. Instead of opening new prisons in this area, all of them should be shut down.
• In January of 2014, Governor Jerry Brown’s reelection campaign reported $54,400 in donations from GEO Group. GEO Group has spent $7.6 million on lobbying and campaign contributions in the U.S. in the last decade.
• GEO lobbied strongly to advance laws that increased the time served for drug convictions and other non-violent crimes through mandatory minimum sentencing, three-strikes laws, and truth-in-sentencing laws. GEO was a member of the American Legislative Exchange Commission (ALEC) when the model bill that became AB 1070 (profiling immigrants in Arizona) was drafted. These legal changes resulted in significant profits for GEO.
• In McFarland, CA, GEO has signed a contract incentivizing prolonged incarceration over release by charging the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation less per prisoner if the facility is more than half full.
• GEO operates reentry facilities around the state, including the Taylor Street Center at in San Francisco and the Oakland Center in Oakland. Residents experience these facilities as “re-entry prisons” that are structured to threaten and punish people rather than providing support for people to reenter community life.
It is shameful that CDCR is about to open a for-profit “boutique prison” that does nothing positive to solve the disproportionate overcrowding in the women’s prisons at this time. Assembly Members and Senators, please intervene! Stop the GEO prison from opening. Instead use this $9 million to fully implement existing release programs immediately and fund community-based (not for-profit) reentry programs.
Thank you for listening to this urgent request,
Natalie DeMola, CCWF
Jane Dorotik, CIW
Fonda Gayden, CCWF
Anne Marie Harrison, CCWF
Valerie Juarez, CCWF
Terah Lawyer, CCWF
ChiChi Locci, CCWF
Maydee Morris, CCWF
Amy Preasmeyer, CCWF
Patrice Wallace, CCWF
If you can make it to McFarland (a typically remotely-located prison) in California’s central valley, I urge you to do so.
One might think the cob of corn and carrot held by a hand in a prison protest banner is an unusual inclusion, Unfortunately, access to nutritional food in prisons up and down the country is not guaranteed. This symbol is highly indicative of the very basic struggles prisoners take on in the face of slashed budgets and disregard for life’s basics. Poor food and cutbacks in food provision are not unusual.
As part of a peaceful protest at SCI Coal Township, a petition from the prisoners is now being circulated. It includes 22 demands seeking the restoration of human rights and dignity for the people being held in Pennsylvania prisons.
There are hundreds of actions each year for better conditions for prisoners, but I thought the ask for simple nutrition was a good indicator of the desperate situation in some U.S. prisons. The protest is also being supported by DecarceratePA, an abolitionist group I support and admire.
This week, I received the following letter from activist Emily Abendroth and the DecarceratePA group:
In late June, in response to dramatic food cutbacks at the State Correctional Institute at Coal Township, over 1300 men staged a week-long boycott of the prison dining hall. At the end of a week of peaceful protest, with still no commitment to change forthcoming from the prison administration, participants released a list of 22 requests/demands.
The prisoners are asking that prison officials at SCI Coal Township, and across the PA Department of Corrections, honor the basic human rights of people in prison. Among other things, these men are petitioning for: access to adequate food, the ability to hold cultural events, an effective grievance process, respectful medical care, and an end to policies that dehumanize and punish prisoners and their families.
Given the fact that more than 1,300 prisoners at Coal Township were able to stand and act in solidarity with one another in the name of changing current prison conditions, at great risk to their personal livelihood, we on the outside should be aiming not only to match but to massively amplify those numbers in our own displays of support.
Take action now:
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Call PA DOC Secretary John Wetzel on 717-728-4109 and/or SCI Coal Township Superintendent Vincent Mooney on 570-644-7890 to register your thoughts on the demands and situation at Coal Township.
Crowdfunding, eh? What to make of it. I feel like the jury is still out, but then again I have had my head somewhat in the sands of late. I have benefited in the past from a Kickstarter campaign and in the immediate aftermath tried to give my feedback on the dos and don’ts.
Where the successful intersections between cultural production and social justice lie is, for me, a constant internal debate, so I hope this post serves two purposes.
Firstly, to clarify my thinking and to highlight the type of crowd funding campaign that I think encapsulates best practice.
Secondly, to bring a half-dozen endeavors (5 prison-related and 1 purely photo-based) that I think deserve your attention and, perhaps, your dollars.
On the first purpose, I’ve identified common traits among these projects that are indicative of a good practice:
- Track record. These fund seekers appearing out of the blue; they’ve done work in the specific area and have chops and connections.
– Direct action. These projects will directly engage with subject and, consequently audience on urgent politic issues
– Community partners. These funders have existing relationships with organizations or programs that will provide support, direction, accountability and extended networks
– Diversity. Of both product and outcomes. Projects that meld digital output/campaigns and boots-on-the-ground activism get my attention. Creators, in these instances, realize that they must leverage every feasible avenue to get out the political message.
– Matching funds. In cases where matching funds exist, I am reassured. It shows that the creator is forging networks and infers that they are inventive and outward looking when it comes fundraising. It infers that we’re all in it together; it might just give us those necessary warm fuzzy feelings when handing over cash on the internet.
On the second purpose, I’ll let you decide.
Let’s start with a campaign to help OUTREACH, a program offered by Toronto’s Gallery 44 that breaks down barriers to the arts by offering black & white photography workshops to 50 young people each year.
OUTREACH’s darkroom is the last publicly accessible wet darkroom in Toronto. Gallery 44 has offered accessible facilities to artists since 1979.
Donations go to workshops costs: photographic paper, film, processing, chemistry, snacks and transit tokens.
OUTREACH has several existing community partners including the Nia Centre for the Arts, Eva’s Phoenix, Toronto Council Fire Native Community Centre, PEACH and UrbanArts.
“I went from being a student to a mentor,” says one participant. “I recently had my work exhibited in the Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival.”
2. DYING FOR SUNLIGHT
In the summer of 2013, prisoners in California conducted the largest prison hunger strike in U.S. history. 30,000 men refused food in protest against the use of indefinite solitary confinement. Some prisoners refused food for 60 consecutive days. Dying For Sunlight will tell the story.
Across racial lines, from within the belly of the beast (Pelican Bay Secure Housing Unit) California prisoners mounted a reasoned and politically robust defense of their basic human rights that garnered nationwide attention. Their families joined them in solidarity. This was a true grassroots movement built by those on the front lines of state violence
“We prisoners of all races have united to force these changes for future generations,” Arturo Castellanos wrote from the Pelican Bay SHU.
Filmmakers Lucas Guilkey and Nazly Siadate have spent the past year building relationships, and covering the California prisoner hunger strikes. They are joined by journalist Salima Hamirani and community organizations Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, Critical Resistance, All of Us or None, and California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement in their effort to tell this story.
“In a world of sound bytes, Dying For Sunlight feature length documentary will allow us the time to more fully delve into the questions this movement has raised,” says Guilkey. “Why and how is solitary confinement used in California prisons? What does the movement against it look like? And how did we get to the point where we’ve normalized a system of torture in our own backyards?”
Dying For Sunlight takes the premise that, in order to understand our society with “increasing inequality, militarization, incarceration, surveillance, deportation, and the criminalization of dissent, we must listen to the voices of those who have endured the most repressive form of social control–the solitary confinement unit.”
The U.N. Special Rapporteur, Juan Mendez ruled that solitary for anything more than 15 days is psychological torture, yet California and other states throw people in the hole for decades.
The film is in pre-production and all the fancy-schmancy gear is bought. Donations will go directly to costs associated with travel, expenses and editing related to interviews made up and down the state with family members, formerly incarcerated people, solitary experts, prison officials. They’ll attend rallies and vigils too. They hope to have a rough cut by December.
3. CHANGE THE AMERICAN INSTITUTE OF ARCHITECTS (AIA) CODE OF ETHICS TO OUTLAW DESIGN OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT UNITS
Raphael Sperry continues his battle to rewrite an AIA ethics code which predates the widespread use of solitary confinement in the U.S.
An architect himself, but on hiatus to concentrate on this political and ethical fight, Sperry points out, “even though only 3 to 4% of prisoners are in solitary confinement, half of all prison suicides occur among prisoners who are in solitary confinement.
The AIA is the voice of the architectural profession.
“The AIA has disciplinary authority over its members. In the current code of ethics, they have language that says that members should uphold human rights in all of their professional endeavors. So it’s pretty clear that members shouldn’t design a Supermax prison or an execution chamber,” explains Sperry. “[But] the language about upholding human rights is unenforceable in the AIA code of ethics. So all we’re asking them to do is draft an enforceable rule associated with it that says that members should not design [a project that commits] a specific human rights violation.”
Sperry’s tactics go to the heart of his profession and tackle this issue that stains our collective moral conscience. It’s strategic and laudable. He’s won institutional support before.
Donations go toward ongoing conversations, writing, speaking, research and pressure on the top brass.
4. A LIVING CHANCE
A Living Chance: Storytelling to End Life Without Parole is made in collaboration with females serving Life Without Parole (LWOP) in California. The word “collaboration” is the important detail. It is made with incarcerated members of California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP), a grassroots social justice organization with members inside and outside of prison. CCWP rightly identifies incarcerated women as the experts on the issue of prisons.
Audio recordings, interviews, letters, and photographs will constitute a website and a publication about LWOP which is considered the “lesser” alternative sentence to the Death Penalty.
People sentenced to LWOP have no chance of release from prison and very slim opportunity for appeals or clemency. There are approximately 190 people sentenced to die in prison by LWOP in California’s women’s prisons. The majority of whom are survivors of childhood and/or intimate partner abuse. In most cases, evidence of their abuse was not presented at their trial.
California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP) challenges the institutional violence imposed on women, transgender people, and communities of color by the prison industrial complex (PIC) and prioritizes the leadership of the people, families, and communities most impacted in building this movement. CCWP began in 1995 when people inside the women’s prisons filed a lawsuit against then-governor Pete Wilson rightfully claiming that the healthcare inside prison was so terrible it violated their 8th amendment rights.
A Living Chance was chosen as a recipient of a matching funds award up to the value of $6,000. Already, $2,000 has been raised in individual donations, so the crowdfunding target is $4,000 of a $12,000 total
Donations go creation of the storytelling website and publication, stipends for participants, travel costs to the prisons, and building future effective campaigns.
5. THE PRISON PROBLEM, SHANE BAUER’S YEAR OF JOURNALISM
“We spend over $80 billion a year on our corrections system and the cost is growing. At the same time, the number of privately run prisons is on the rise, and the for-profit prison model is spreading globally. In the US, the percentage of prisoners held in private facilities increased 37 percent between 2002 and 2009. Many of these are immigrants, a large number of which remain in pretrial detention for years,” says Bauer. “I’ll show you how U.S. prison practices are being exported to the rest of the world and dissect the systems that lead so many to be locked up in this country.”
For The Prison Problem, Bauer is basically asking for everything he needs to live on in order to create deep investigative journalism: funds to travel, interview, conduct research, and sometimes sue government bodies refusing access to information.
Bauer reporting in Pelican Bay Secure Housing Unit, Crescent City, California, 2013.
Bauer promises at least three or four major feature stories, each is the equivalent of a magazine cover story. He’s got the reporting chops necessary — No Way Out for Mother Jones about solitary in California (video, too) is widely acclaimed.
6. HELPING KIDS OUT OF JAIL AND BACK INTO SCHOOL
Pennsylvania Lawyers for Youth (PALY) provides educational rights counseling and assistance to young people in Montgomery County, PA who are reentering the community after being incarcerated. It’s asking for a little help. Montgomery County, PA has been identified as having a disproportionate amount of minority youth being involved in the juvenile system, and suffers from a lack of agencies focused on supporting youth reentering the community.
PALY recruits law student, as volunteers, to work one-on-one with reentering youth crafting individually-designed educational plans.
The average cost of incarcerating a juvenile for a year is about $88k per year; educating that same student is one eighth that cost.
The ask of only $10,000 is small by comparison, but the effect could be huge. Donations will cover PALY’s first year of programming costs: training mentors, youth educational programs, and a ‘Know Your Rights’ campaigns for the community.
Lucia retrieving her stashed pack in the bushes. Kitra Cahana, California, 2013.
I’ll confess that until I met Kitra Cahana last week, I knew next to nothing about her work. That’s my loss more than anything because her work is fantastic; it’s empathetic and it subtly prods many assumptions of priggish Western culture.
Case in point is Cahana’s series Nomad, which documents the lives of a morphing group of young travellers in the U.S. All of it — the boxcars, the festivals, the tiredness, the freedom, the victories, the marginalised physical and psychological spaces, the run-ins with police and the friendship.
Mogli tries on a new dress he just found in a free pile at a truck stop in Washington State. Kitra Cahana, 2010.
As a 2014 TED Fellow, Cahana talked about Nomad to a crowd of TEDsters last month. The presentation A Glimpse Of A Life On The Road doesn’t sugarcoat of idealise the lives of these modern day nomads. “Addiction is real,” she says as she begins to list the many hardships that come with living subject to the elements and under the hammer of increasingly punitive laws.
“Who knows that in many American cities it is now illegal to sit on the sidewalk, to wrap oneself in a blanket and to sleep in ones own car?” Cahana asks the TED crowd. She goes on:
By night they sleep beneath the stars …
Some travelers take to the road by choice, renouncing materialism, traditional jobs and university degrees in exchange for a glimmer of adventure. Others, come from the underbelly of society never given a chance to mobilize upwards — foster care drop out, teenage runaways escaping abuse and unforgiving homes.
Where others see story of privation and economic failure, travelers view their own existence through the prism of liberation and freedom.
They’d rather live off the excess of what they view as a wasteful consumer society, than slave away at an unrealistic chance at the traditional American dream. They take advantage of the fact that in the United States up to 40% of all food ends up in the garbage, by scavenging for perfectly good produce in dumpsters and trash cans. They sacrifice material comforts in exchange for the space and the time to explore a creative interior.
Vagabonds confuse most of us. And when I say ‘us’ I mean ‘me.’ Why would someone even do that? Live like that?
To exercise empathy I must meet others at a half-way point, and I must meet them where they are at. And to understand. It was my lesson, from listening to Cahana, that I haven’t allowed my imagination to extend far enough to see a life-on-the-road as a solid political position.
In majority America, given the obvious economic inequality, waste, unemployment, sexism in populist media and the associated perverse obsessions of consumerism, you would think, we have plenty of reasons to opt out?!
Put like that, life-on-the-road seems like one of the more sensible responses. I’ve got a few lessons to learn from Cahana’s friends and subjects.
Kitra Cahana speaks at length about Nomad on the TED blog.