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A CARTOONIST GOES TO JAIL
In June 2014, Los Angeles-based cartoonist Elana Pritchard was arrested for violating a court order. When she bailed out on July 3, she had little-to-no money and an overworked public defender. Her prospects didn’t look great.
“I knew I’d have to serve time for my violation,” Pritchard wrote for LA Weekly. “That’s when my mentor, animator-director Ralph Bakshi, advised me to *document my exploits*.”
Pritchard was jailed in the Los Angeles County jail system for two months. First, she spent 5-weeks at Century Regional Detention Facility (CRDF) in Lynwood, and closed out her remaining 3-weeks at Twin Towers Correctional Facility in downtown L.A.
ACCESS, OBSERVING & DRAWING
As you know, I deal with photographic imagery mostly, but I am always eager to point out creative efforts in other mediums that illuminate critical criminal justice issues more efficiently, powerfully and intelligently than photography. Pritchard’s cartoons from jail are honest, wry and direct.
“Armed with nothing more than a golf pencil and whatever paper I could get my hands on, I drew the strange world into which I’d been dropped,” says Pritchard. This was the draughtsperson’s equivalent of a two-month photojournalist embed!
They get to the root of those daily indignities that establish power-relations between guards and prisoners. Simultaneously, those power-relations ratchet up tensions for everyone in the jail.
As you look through these cartoons, I ask you to wonder is the “strange world” Pritchard reveals — of cold showers, dirty laundry, confiscated belongings, midnight cell-counts, competitions over basic sanitary products, food scarcity, sly put-downs and much more — one that we can accept, or one that we can ignore?
The unreasonable claustrophobia of the jail is made visceral in Pritchard’s drawings. I’d argue she conveys the experience of jail far better than many photographers can and have.
I discovered the comics at the Prison Arts Coalition blog and hastily made inquiries as to whether I could repost the cartoons and Pritchard’s commentary here. Gratefully, I was given permission.
Scroll down, here, to read Pritchard’s reaction to the cartoons’ publication in LA Weekly. I also recommend you read the original LA Weekly article in which Pritchard explains the context for each image.
“I Wanted To Remind Us We Were People”
I couldn’t be more pleased with the response to my cartoons from Los Angeles jail system. People from all over the world have written to me expressing their support for what I have done and their contempt for inhumane practices for incarcerated peoples everywhere.
I have been in communication with the LA County Sheriff’s department and they have told me that due to these comics they have issued a new policy that all inmates must be given showers within 24 hours of entering the jail. We are scheduled to meet to discuss further improvements. And throughout all of this it seems the original, humble message of these comics is sticking: that we were people.
Even though we had a barcode on our wrist with a number and were called “bodies” by the staff, we were still people.
Many people in jail are still on trial and haven’t even been found guilty or innocent yet. Many people made mistakes that you or I have made before in private, only they got caught. There were mothers in there that missed their children. There were kind people in there that cared about the arts and cared about each other.
I drew these comics to make us all laugh and remind us that even though there was a whole group of of people with badges and better clothes than we had telling us we didn’t matter … we DID matter and we WERE PEOPLE.
In that the comics were successful, and for that I am proud.
All images were first published in the LA Weekly, 2015.
Elana Pritchard is a cartoonist in Los Angeles. Before she landed in jail she worked as an animator on Ralph Bakshi’s film, Last Days of Coney Island.
She is currently raising money on Kickstarter to complete her animation, The Circus.
You can follow Pritchard on Twitter at @elanapritchard.
All images were first published in the LA Weekly, 2015.
Claudia Cass with her children, Matthew, Kaylee, left, and Courtney in 2006. Credit: Alysia Santo/The Marshall Project
The lives of prison officers, as I have said before, are rarely represented by means of photography. I don’t know if that is the case for other mediums. Regardless, Alysia Santo‘s profile of Claudia Cass, a prison officer in New Hampshire, is essential reading.
“Her work in the prison had become so overwhelming that Matthew, her 11-year old son, was often alone, cooking his own dinner and seeing himself off to school,” writes Santo.
Cass, 42, is so stretched by the long hours of her job she feels unable to care adequately for her son. She made the toughest decision of her life and transferred legal custody of Matthew to her mother.
Imagine that? Having to give up legal custody of your child because you’re spending all your waking hours working in a prison? Crazy and depressing.
Prison guards are often characterized, whether in news accounts or movies, as living under some constant threat of mayhem. But for Cass and her fellow officers, the recurring nightmare is not a prison riot. It is falling asleep at the wheel after a series of 16-hour shifts. Or nodding off with your sidearm exposed while escorting a sick inmate to the hospital. Or even having to tell your child that you don’t have time to be a mother.
I love the term “activist-shareholder.” I envision a person wearing protest t-shirts at the AGM, or the organisation of a silent bloc that suddenly bursts into action and derails the agenda of a meeting. Activist-shareholders are moles in the system. Granted they are very visible roles, and it is soon very obvious as to why they have bought shares in a corporation whose practices they oppose, but still. yay for the little man.
Alex Friedmann, associate director of the Human Rights Defense Center and managing editor of Prison Legal News is one such activist shareholder. He made the reasonable proposal that private prisons make attempts to rehabilitate prisoners. Shock horror! And, guess what? The private prison company refused.
I just adore these tactics. If the prison industrial complex is to be dismantled it’ll take an untold amount of imagination and the combination of many tactics. Friedmann’s colleague at Prison Legal News Paul Wright was on hand this week to remind us that talking about the problem is not always doing something about the problem. Wright spoke with Alysia Santo for The Marshall Project, in a provocatively titled interview piece Sure, People Are Talking About Prison Reform, but They Aren’t Actually Doing Anything.
Go forth, let your imagination run wild.
Below, the Human Rights Defense Center press release:
Nation’s Largest Private Prison Firm Objects to Resolution to Fund Rehabilitative, Reentry Programs
Nashville, TN – Last Friday, Corrections Corporation of America (NYSE: CXW), the nation’s largest for-profit prison firm, formally objected to a shareholder resolution that would require the company to spend just 5% of its net income “on programs and services designed to reduce recidivism rates for offenders.”
The resolution was submitted by Alex Friedmann, associate director of the Human Rights Defense Center and managing editor of Prison Legal News. An activist shareholder, Friedmann owns a small amount of CCA stock; in the 1990s he served six years at a CCA-operated prison in Clifton, Tennessee prior to his release in 1999.
“As a former prisoner, I know firsthand the importance of providing rehabilitative programs and reentry services,” Friedmann stated. “I also know firsthand the incentive of private prisons to cut costs – including expenses associated with rehabilitative programs – in order to increase their profit margins.”
Citing data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the resolution notes that “Recidivism rates for prisoners released from correctional facilities are extremely high, with almost 77% of offenders being re-arrested within five years of release.” Further, “[t]he need to reduce recidivism rates for offenders held in [CCA’s] facilities is of particular importance, as two recent studies concluded that prisoners housed at privately-operated facilities have higher average recidivism rates.”
The shareholder resolution states that it “provides an opportunity for CCA to do more to reduce the recidivism rates of offenders released from the Company’s facilities, and thus reduce crime and victimization in our communities.”
CCA filed a formal objection with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), seeking to exclude the resolution from its 2015 proxy materials distributed to shareholders. In its objection, CCA argued that the resolution relates to “ordinary business operations,” comparing it to other shareholder resolutions that have, for example, sought to require companies to “test and install showerheads that use limited amounts of water.”
In a press release issued by CCA last year, the company announced “a series of commitments” to rehabilitative programming, stating it would “play a larger role in helping reduce the nation’s high recidivism rate.” At the time, CCA CEO Damon Hininger claimed that “Reentry programs and reducing recidivism are 100 percent aligned with our business model.”
“CCA’s objection to a shareholder resolution that would require the company to spend just 5% of its net income on rehabilitative and reentry programs demonstrates the lack of the company’s sincerity when it claims to care about reducing recidivism,” stated HRDC executive director Paul Wright. “Evidently, retaining 95% of its profits isn’t enough for CCA – which isn’t surprising, because as a for-profit company CCA is only concerned about its bottom line, not what is best for members of the public, including those victimized by crime.”
“If CCA was serious about investing in rehabilitation and reentry programs for prisoners who will be released from the company’s for-profit facilities, then it would not have objected to this resolution,” Friedmann added. “But it did, so we can draw our own conclusions.”
The Human Rights Defense Center, founded in 1990 and based in Lake Worth, Florida, is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting human rights in U.S. detention facilities. HRDC publishes Prison Legal News (PLN), a monthly magazine that includes reports, reviews and analysis of court rulings and news related to prisoners’ rights and criminal justice issues. PLN has around 9,000 subscribers nationwide and operates a website (www.prisonlegalnews.org) that includes a comprehensive database of prison and jail-related articles, news reports, court rulings, verdicts, settlements and related documents.
For further information:
Human Rights Defense Center
Human Rights Defense Center
Image source: ACLU
Photographer unknown. Group holding cages, C-Yard, Building 13, Administrative Segregation Unit, Mule Creek State Prison, August 1, 2008
The coalition activist groups Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB) are doing tremendous work at tracking was is said as compared to what is done by the Golden State’s politicians. Governor Jerry Brown has been particularly adept at appeasing the centrist and liberal leaning electorate without ever taking bold action to reduce California’s reliance on incarceration.
This morning, Gov. Brown announced an increase in spending on corrections at the state level. Not acceptable.
You may wonder why I focus on California so much. Well, aside of the fact it is my home state, California is often a bellwether for actions in other states. California was the first to enact Three-Strikes-And-You’re-Out Laws in the mid-nineties and it was the first to repeal them at the ballot in 2014.
California is a massive economy — bigger than most nations — and yet inequality in the Golden State has never been more stark. California tells itself it is a global leader. However, if that were true it would be spending less money on cages and more money on education, rehabilitation, and initiatives to build healthy communities.
Today’s announcement from the Governor’s office simply is not good enough. Here’s CURB’s response:
CURB PRESS RELEASE
California Governor Jerry Brown Backslides on Corrections Budget, No Substantial Reductions to the Prison Population Except Costly Expansion
Gov. Brown’s 2015-16 Budget, released this morning, defies comments earlier this week that the administration is committed to shrinking California’s over-sized prisons by increasing prison spending by 1.7%, bringing the total Corrections budget up to $12.676 billion.
“If the Governor believes that ‘we can’t pour more and more dollars down the rat hole of incarceration’ and has actively attributed the voice of the voters in this decision, then why is he increasing spending on corrections, planning for more prisoners rather than fewer and defying the demands of the Federal Court to further shrink the prison system?” asked Christina Tsao of Critical Resistance. The proposed increase of funding for corrections is partially due to 13 new reentry hubs.
California’s overwhelming passage of Prop. 47 was widely recognized as a mandate from voters to further reduce the prison population. County officials in Los Angeles have estimated an annual reduction of 2,500 in their jail population, however today’s budget predicts that in 2015-16 only 1,900 people will be released from state prison under the proposition. The budget highlights the release of people from prison as a result of the expansion of good-time credits (4,418) and elder parole (115). The budget does not outline any further plans to expand these efforts.
“Today’s budget shows the success of parole and sentencing reform measures in beginning to reduce crowding in California’s bloated prisons,” said Diana Zuñiga, Statewide Organizer for Californians United for a Responsible Budget. “Then why is Governor Brown still spending millions of dollars to open thousands of new prison beds, instead of implementing even more aggressive population reduction reforms?” asks Zuñiga. The budget anticipates that 2,376 new state prison beds will open in Feb. 2016 at 3 different locations.
“Today’s budget maintains California as #1 in poverty and #1 in prison spending. This is not an accident, “ said Vanessa Perez from Time for Change Foundation. “This morning Brown applauded the legislature on a balanced budget but we need to tear down the wall of poverty and invest more into vital programs and services that will lift the most vulnerable in our community out of poverty and stop wasting money on building new prisons walls. That is something that will be worthy of an applause”.
After years of cuts, today’s budget includes an increase in spending on K-12 and higher education. Education advocates, particularly in the UC system would like to see even further increases to prevent tuition hikes. “Higher educations in California has needed more funding for years. As we see tuition hikes happening for UC students across the state, here in San Diego they are building new prison beds at Donovan State Prison,” says Allyson Osorio a student working in External Affairs at UC San Diego. “We should support the students in California and stop wasting precious funding to increase incarceration.”
CURB Press Contact
Emily Harris, Statewide Coordinator, Californians United for a Responsible Budget
1322 Webster St. #210
Oakland, CA 94612
In the final two days of fundraising, Echoes Of Incarceration is a long term project that helps children of incarcerated parents to make documentary films about the effects of America’s prison industrial complex — on society, on us, on families, on communities, and mostly on children without one or both parents behind bars.
There are an estimated 2.7 million children in America with one or both parents in prison or jail. Mass incarceration has created fundamental weaknesses in society. Mass incarceration as easily impacts individuals as it does vulnerable groups (the poor, the under-educated, the discriminated against) and often we perceive the effects as lasting only years, or being contained within the experience of one identified moment, lifetime or geographical space. We neglect to recognise that mass incarceration is piling pressures on top of problems on top of expectations on top of America’s young, developing citizens.
We live in a society in which vast numbers of youth must negotiate formative years without parental support. The prison industrial complex has burdened our youth with an almost inconceivable set of problems that they did not ask for, and they do not deserve.
Echoes Of Incarceration brings much needed scrutiny to the issue of mass incarceration and crucially it does it through the lens of the innocent people who have inherited a broken, brutalising system we made. Their latest productions deal specifically with the Bill of Rights of Children with Incarcerated Parents.
Please, fund this important project.
Below is a 2009 production made by Echoes Of Incarceration
Art For Justice has a new exhibition opening in Philadelphia.
Free Library of Philadelphia, 1901 Vine Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103. (Between 19th and 20th Streets on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway)
Jan. 12 – Feb. 15, 2015
Carnell Hunnicutt, Sr. Northern Correctional Institution, Somers, CT. Courtesy Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility. Via Solitary Watch.
Today, December 10th, is Human Rights Day. Organised by the United Nations, the day of action is based around the central tenet that “Each one of us, everywhere, at all times is entitled to the full range of human rights. Human rights belong equally to each of us and bind us together as a global community with the same ideals and values.”
The UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights contains several articles which would apply broadly to prisoners and former prisoners in the U.S., but unfortunately remain unrecognized by the U.S. government.”
Specifically, we should be looking at the enforcement of policy and law as they would uphold Articles 4, 8, 9 and 21.
The problems are endless. Executions need to stop — the state shouldn’t be murdering citizens. Mass incarceration, generally, brings with it almost insurmountable problems (overcrowding, inadequate healthcare, predation, sexual and psychological abuse). The prison industrial complex magnifies these problems in poor communities. I’ve noticed a cycle of issues-du-jour that append to critique of American prisons. Most recently, no doubt, the issue of solitary confinement has been widely discussed. Why? Because it is abusive and counter-productive. Moves in the right direction are starting to reign in the rampant use of solitary as a disciplining technique. I wrote about what’s at stake for Daylight Digital last year:
Juan E. Méndez, United Nations special rapporteur on torture, is clear that solitary confinement is torture and permanently damages the mental health of prisoners.
“Segregation, isolation, separation, cellular, lockdown, Supermax, the hole, Secure Housing Unit…whatever the name, solitary confinement should be banned by States as a punishment or extortion technique,” said Mendez in front of the UN General Assembly in June 2011. “It is a harsh measure which is contrary to rehabilitation, the aim of the penitentiary system.”
Prisoners lose their minds quickly when deprived of human contact. Identity is socially created, and it is through relationships that individuals understand themselves.
Solitary confinement “undermines your ability to register and regulate emotion,” explained Craig Haney, psychology professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, in an interview with WIRED. “The appropriateness of what you’re thinking and feeling is difficult to index, because we’re so dependent on contact with others for that feedback. And for some people, it becomes a struggle to maintain sanity.”
Common symptoms resulting from long-term isolation include chronic apathy, lethargy, depression, and despair. In extreme cases, prisoners may literally stop behaving and become essentially catatonic.
If a prisoner doesn’t withdraw within him or herself, he or she may resort to aggression. In his study of Pelican Bay SHU prisoners, Haney found that nearly 90 percent had difficulties with irrational anger, compared with just 3 percent of the general US population.
Physician Atul Gawande has compared the permanent psychological impairment described in Haney’s research to that incurred by traumatic brain injury.
For many, calendar days such as these serve to raise brief awareness. Often not much more. In our busy lives it can be hard to stay on top of the ebb and flow of politics, policy and information; it’s tough to hold those in power accountable, especially if day-to-day we’re just trying to get the bare minimum done.
I don’t know what I think of e-petitions as I don’t know how to gauge their efficacy, but I do know it takes seconds to sign one and you can do it after the kids are in bed and the washing up’s drying.
Thanks to Prisoner Activist for this comprehensive list of 22 active petitions against solitary confinement.
ACLU of Arizona: Arizona is Maxed Out! No New Supermax Prison Beds
American Friends Service Committee (AFSC): Stop Abuse of
Amnesty International: US super-maximum security prisons must be opened up for UN scrutiny!
Amnesty International USA: Free Albert Woodfox – End the Injustice. Remove Woodfox from Isolation
Amnesty International USA: Solitary Confinement: US Government Must End This Cruel and Inhumane Practice
Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB): Demand the State of California Stop the Torture
Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR): Honor the Pelican Bay SHU Prisoners’ Demands
Friends Committee on Legislation of California: Stop the abuse of solitary confinement
National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT): End Prolonged Solitary Confinement Now
National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT): Take Action to End Solitary Confinement of Youth in California
National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT): People of Faith Support Solitary Confinement Study and Reform Act of 2014
New York City Jails Action Coalition (JAC) Says: End Solitary Confinement; No Supermax at Rikers
Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition: Support Pelican Bay SHU Prisoners’ Five Core Demands (hunger strike)
Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition: Corcoran SHU Prisoners Start Hunger Strike for Decent Healthcare
Roots Action: End prolonged solitary confinement
Sylvia Rivera Law Project: DOCCS, Make Housing Safer for Trans People in New York State Prisons!
The Petition Site: End Child Torture: Stop Holding Our Kids in Solitary Confinement!
Image: White Construction.
SMALL STEPS TO A BIG PROBLEM
If we’re ever wondering how and when we transformed into a society supporting a Prison Industrial Complex, then we can and should look to events in Karnes County, Texas this week.
Playing out in Karnes Co. this week is a scene that we’ve seen thousands of times before. And ultimately, we’ll see a decision to build or not to build.
For every one of the 6,000+ prisons in America (Federal penitentiaries, State prisons, County Jails, private prisons and ICE detention facilities) there has been a process of planning, discussion, budgeting and approval. The degree to which these political mechanics are visible and accessible to the public and the degrees to which public are aware or activated for and against prison in their earliest proposal stages, of course, differs wildly. But, I want to make the point here that prisons don’t simply emerge as a natural consequence of crime. Prisons are buildings with construction and operating costs. Prisons are places of labor and sites of capital. Prisons are designed and they are manufactured by men who want to assume some type of responsibility for them.
PRISONS FOR IMMIGRANTS IS A BOOMING BUSINESS
The GEO Group, a corporation with a long history of poorly-run facilities and abuse of prisoners on its watch stands to benefit most from the proposed expansion of the facility from 532 women and children to more than 1,300.
Watch Karnes Co. this week, because it is in its Commissioners’ offices that the absolute decision by some humans to put more humans behind chain-link and razor-wire will be made.
Watch Karnes Co. this week because this is one of thousands of current battle sites in the nation, right now, in which activists are intervening and slowing or stopping our insane march toward incarceration.
Watch Karnes Co. this week because those opposing the expansion are true American heroes.
Watch Karnes Co. this week because not since WWII internment has the United States put so many non-criminal women and children behind bars.
According to local channel KSAT, opinions are split, but in the VT those in favour were making simple arguments based upon the jobs the GEO prison would bring. Opposing views are nuanced and based in a broader and ethical perspectives.
When the family prison opened in 2012, NPR did its best to distinguish it from other places by describing it as “less like prison.” Well, such a *new dawn* and such an enlightened approach to the sick practice of looking up women and children has not yielded results. This new type of prison, apparently, leads to a bigger prison and not *a solution* to the perceived problem!
WHAT TO DO
If you’re concerned sign the petition. Your letter will go directly to the Karnes County Commissioners.
Watch a 30-minute documentary about the Karnes facility. Here’s the trailer.
If you would like to show the film in your commnunity, email email@example.com
Again, please, sign the petition.