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Image: Amy Elkins, from the series Black Is The Day, Black Is The Night
Before my celebration, last week, of Arthur Longworth‘s CLO Conference presentation, I had no idea his work was to be featured once more on The Marshall Project. As part of TMP’s ongoing Life Inside series, Longworth wrote about being moved between cells. This excerpt stood out:
Now I’m loading up my pictures. Here’s one of the former warden and his wife, who have visited me over the years, welcomed me into their family, and spoken out for my release.
There is so little solidity in prison, so little to depend on, that a picture like this — or a cell that’s mine, that’s home, that I can always return to — is a treasure.
Longworth’s appreciation for a former-warden’s support is thrilling, clever and effective. Longworth gently turns over our preconceived notions of friend and foe. A man of uniform has welcomed a prisoner into his family? If our stereotypes of law enforcement dissolve then what of our stereotypes of prisoners? Well, just read Arthur Longworth’s words. And those of thousands of other prison writers, for that matter.
I spent last Friday inside the walls of San Quentin State Prison watching the presentations of TEDxSan Quentin. Most talks were by prisoners and almost all were moving, reasoned, hard-hitting. It reminded me, once more, of the incredible intellect of men, women and children inside America’s prisons. It made me think again of how foolish we are as a society to waste talent, ignore positive contributions and crush lives through our addiction to incarceration.
Arthur Longworth was not at that TEDx; he is imprisoned not at San Quentin, but at Monroe Correctional Complex near Seattle. Nor did Longworth make the presentation (above) at a TED event. While Monroe has had its own TEDx event, the prisoners own Concerned Lifers Organization (CLO) has been hosting an annual conference for longer.
Longworth’s talk Mass Drownings at the 2015 CLO Conference is an eloquent, 18-minute-long metaphor of the prison industrial complex as the ocean. Longworth was sentenced to Life Without Parole (LWOP) meaning he has for the past 30-some-years lived behind bars knowing he’d never get out from them. This is a special-type of torture reserved for he and tens of thousands of other Americans. Longworth has witnessed more and more people tossed into the ocean and describes the cruelty of hope.
“This news that people outside of the ocean are actually talking about what’s happening in it spreads across the water in the form of hope. A piece of which you reach out and grab on to. Your instinct isn’t to hold on because by this time you’ve been in the water so long and you don’t know what hope is. But when you try to let go you discover that you can’t bring yourself to do it because this thing you’ve grabbed on to is warm and buoyant. For the first time since you were put into the ocean you cease to shiver and you feel like there might be something to swim toward.”
It’s here that our relationship with those on the inside comes into sharp focus. Politicized prisoners know that there’s a major shift in public attitudes. They are working, too, to help in the balanced and restorative debate we have ackowledged we need. Recognising there’s a problem is the easy part; we need to find the solutions. We need to meet these mens’ hopes. We need to replace a bloated and cruel, cruel system with humanity.
I watched this video for the first time in the wee hours of Thursday, 14th January. I was due that afternoon to open Prison Obscura at Evergreen State College. I have presented so many times on Prison Obscura and the ideas around it that it’s hard not to feel jaded at times. Sometimes, I go into auto-pilot. But, just because I have communicated things multiple times doesn’t make the human rights abuses to which they respond any less urgent.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Longworth several times during my role as a teacher with the University Beyond Bars at Monroe (2009-2011). We never spent any time in the classroom together. He had no use for the art classes I taught and it was not feasible for me to take his Spanish lessons! Arthur Longworth is a brilliant mind and an inspired leader. From within a system that has abandoned its moral compass he has maintained his own. Somehow.
Longworth bristles with controlled fury and a nailed-on sense of injustice. He can’t fathom why a society might throw people away so readily. Then he recalls the monarchy system from which the United States emerged. Kings used to condemn men by decree without ever seeing their faces. Only high and mighty arrogance could enact such disregard.
Mass Drownings reduced me to tears. I also felt shame; shame that I’d got lazy, on occasion, with the presentation of Prison Obscura. The show remains on the walls of Evergreen State College through March 2nd, but I am inclined to tell Washingtonians to watch Arthur Longworth before they seek out any online video about Prison Obscura. Longworth’s argument, grace and dignity are why the fight against mass incarceration must continue. His words carry more meaning and weight than any I, or any other outside activist for that matter, could ever.
Of course, to people familiar with prison literature, this is no surprise. Longworth won the PEN Center ‘Best Prison Memoir’ Prize in 2010. Pulitzer-winning novelist Junot Diaz read Longworth’s Walla Walla IMU, a story about ants in solitary confinement, on stage to a New York crowd. College students nationwide are assigned his works. Last year, The Marshall Project published an essay of his. Longworth has been the feature of Seattle Times and KUOW pieces about LWOP.
Listen to Longworth. Simply put, he’s one of the few remaining persons who talks any sense about a maddening system that condemns hundreds of thousands of men, women and children without ever seeing their faces.
Even though 1,000 were printed, they’re somewhat of a rarity these days. Hundreds were given out for free during the opening exhibition at Haverford College and they’ve made their way into comrades’ hands, collections and supporters bookshelves ever since.
I have only 18 remaining in my possession.
48 pages of pretty pictures, a foreword by Kristen Lindgren and a whopping 5,000-word essay by yours truly.
I’m thrilled by the prospect of people reading on the printed page as opposed to these here screens.
© Mark Strandquist, from the series ‘Some Other Places We Have Missed’
From the Brown v Plata/Coleman lawsuit.
© Josh Begely, from the series ‘Prison Map’
Photo: Made by a student of Steve Davis during a photography workshop in Washington State juvenile detention facility.
From the Brown v Plata/Coleman lawsuit.
High Desert State Prison, Susanville, Lassen County, California.
As shocking as the crimes covered in the latest investigation of conditions in California’s prisons is the fact the same abuse, racism and corruption continue.
“Guards at an isolated state prison have created a “culture of racism,” engage in alarming use of force against inmates and have a code of silence encouraged by the union that represents most corrections officers,” reports the Sacramento Bee.
The problems have been exacerbated by High Desert State Prison‘s relative isolation in the high Sierra town of Susanville which has a population of only 16,000. The prison holds more than 3,000 prisoners despite only being designed for 2,300.
The report 2015 Special Review: High Desert State Prison, Susanville, CA (PDF) by the California Inspector General details rising violence in special housing units designed to protect vulnerable inmates, including sex offenders, gang dropouts and prisoners with physical disabilities.
“So-called sensitive-needs yards, which are supposed to shelter inmates likely to be attacked in the general population, instead were “just as violent” as the rest of High Desert — “with gang politics meting out abuse and punishment for drug and gambling debts and extorting vulnerable inmates for protection, all of which is exacerbated by the tacit acquiescence of custody staff”,” reports the fastidious and essential Paige St.John for the Los Angeles Times.
The report describes use of the N-word and the derogatory insult “wetback” being used routinely by guards. Prisoners report Green-Walling which is a form of unity and silence that guards adopt to hamper investigation. The California prison-guards’ uniforms is green.
More shocking, but not surprising, the guards union, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, advised its members not to cooperate and filed a lawsuit and collective bargaining grievance in a bid to hinder the investigation, says Inspector General Robert Barton.
“The union sent a letter last month to Gov. Jerry Brown and every state lawmaker in what Barton called “the latest strong-arm tactic … to obstruct the … review and attempt to discredit the OIG in advance of the release of this report”,” reports the Sacramento Bee.
Read the full report: 2015 Special Review: High Desert State Prison, Susanville, CA (PDF)
In Newcastle, England? Or near? This Wednesday, 9th December 2015 at 5.30pm, Dr. Dominique Moran, Reader in Carceral Geography at the University of Birmingham (who you should follow on Twitter at @carceralgeog) is giving a lecture given the tantalising title What Is Prison (Not) For, and What Can(‘t) It Do?
It’s the inaugural Annual Lecture of the Social & Cultural Geographies Research Group at Northumbria University. And you should go.
Although prisons and criminal justice systems are integral parts of governance and techniques of governmentality, the geographical study of the prison and other confined or closed spaces is still relatively novel. The sub-discipline of carceral geography has established useful and fruitful dialogues with cognate disciplines of criminology and prison sociology, and is attuned to issues of contemporary import such as hyper-incarceration and the advance of the punitive state. It has also used the carceral context as a lens through which to view concepts with wider currency within contemporary and critical human geography. Thus far, it has made key contributions to debates within human geography over mobility, liminality, and embodiment.
Carceral geography brings to the study of prisons and imprisonment an understanding of relational space, as encountered, performed and fluid. Rather than seeing prisons as spatially fixed and bounded containers for people and imprisonment practices, through prison systems straightforwardly mappable in scale and distance, carceral geography has tended towards an interpretation of prisons as fluid, geographically-anchored sites of connections and relations, both connected to each other and articulated with wider social processes through and via mobile and embodied practices. Hence its focus on the experience, performance and mutability of prison space, the porous prison boundary, mobility within and between institutions, and the ways in which meanings and significations are manifest within fluid and ever-becoming carceral landscapes.
This lecture draws upon ongoing ESRC-funded research within the UK prison estate, to consider how the philosophical purposes of imprisonment are manifest in the built environment, and the ways in which the nature of carceral spaces affects the experience of incarceration.
¡Refreshments from 5pm!
Room B0001, Ellison Building, Northumbria University, NE1 8ST
Here’s a map (PDF).
Free, but register here.
WARM OFF THE PRESSES
Hey y’all, the Status Update publication is now on sale.
A perfect-bound, 128-page, softcover book featuring the work by Lily Chen, Janet Delaney, Sergio De La Torre, Rian Dundon, Robert Gumpert, Pendarvis Harshaw, Talia Herman, Elizabeth Lo, Laura Morton, Paccarik Orue, Brandon Tauszik, Joseph Rodriguez, Dai Sugano and Sam Wolson.
Introduction by Raj Jayadev, coordinator for Silicon Valley De-Bug and an interview with San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi.
5.5 x 8.5 inches
Edition of 1,000 (November 2015)
Designed by the genius Bonnie Briant.
Produced by Catchlight, Status Update curated by Rian Dundon and myself is an exhibition of photography and video about change, chance and inequality in the San Francisco Bay Area. It premiered at SOMArts in San Francisco in November 2015 and will travel throughout the SF Bay Area throughout 2016.
So far, so good. The show got some great coverage.
Laurence Butet-Roch reflected for Time: Witness the Complex Evolution of the San Francisco Bay Area
California Sunday Magazine gave us a showing: Long Exposure: New Exhibit Captures Residents Experiencing the Boom and Bust of the Bay Area
Mark Murrmann wrote a glowing preview for Mother Jones: These Photos Show the Bay Area You’ll Never See From a Google Bus
Stanford Ethics students got to grips with the show: Adjusting our Focus: the Tech Boom through a Different Lens
Mashable threw down a gallery: Photos Capture Inequality and Change in San Francisco Bay Area
Wired offered great support with Laura Mallonee‘s feature: Capturing the Bay Area’s Diversity — and Rapid Change
Erin Baldassari for the East Bay Express reviewed the show with focus on Oakland-based artists: Beyond Black and White: Nuanced Ways of Documenting the Housing Crisis
Silicon Valley DeBug, with whom we partnered in the show posted for their committed South Bay community and following.
And finally, I was interviewed by Doug Bierend for Vice: ‘Status Update’ Captures the Evolution of the Bay Area
GET IT NOW
The book’s going to last longer than any of the prints and beyond next years traveling exhibit. Whether it will last as long as the issues that are percolating here in the Bay Area and Silicon Valley, we’ll see …
I’m being facetious of course. Playful, yes. And earnest, oh yes.
Callinan, the campus exhibitions coordinator at Haverford College, builds four shows every year, from the ground up. He’s interested not in the big names per se but the emerging ideas of curators, artists and collectives who’ll connect Haverford students to the world as it is now.
And there’s a good amount there for photo-lovers, too. For example, the recent The Past is a Foreign Country a solo show for François-Xavier Gbré and Possible Cities, curated by Ruti Talmor including the work of photographers Sammy Baloji, Pieter Hugo, Salem Mekuria, Sabelo Mlangeni, Guy Tillim and IngridMwangiRobertHutter.
Oh, and how could I miss the current show?!?! The Wall In Our Heads is a themed show about the Berlin Wall, curated by the legendary Paul M Farber who has written extensively on the TV show, The Wire. Do not miss Farber’s paper The Last Rites of D’Angelo Barksdale: The Life and Afterlife of Photography In The Wire.
How better to follow this hotbed of innovation than through the Instah?
Screengrab of a Google image search for “terror”
ONE HELL OF AN OPENER
One of the more amazing ledes to a story you’ll see:
Fourteen years of wars, interventions, assassinations, torture, kidnappings, black sites, the growth of the American national security state to monumental proportions, and the spread of Islamic extremism across much of the Greater Middle East and Africa. Fourteen years of astronomical expense, bombing campaigns galore, and a military-first foreign policy of repeated defeats, disappointments, and disasters. Fourteen years of a culture of fear in America, of endless alarms and warnings, as well as dire predictions of terrorist attacks. Fourteen years of the burial of American democracy (or rather its recreation as a billionaire’s playground and a source of spectacle and entertainment but not governance). Fourteen years of the spread of secrecy, the classification of every document in sight, the fierce prosecution of whistleblowers, and a faith-based urge to keep Americans “secure” by leaving them in the dark about what their government is doing. Fourteen years of the demobilization of the citizenry. Fourteen years of the rise of the warrior corporation, the transformation of war and intelligence gathering into profit-making activities, and the flocking of countless private contractors to the Pentagon, the NSA, the CIA, and too many other parts of the national security state to keep track of. Fourteen years of our wars coming home in the form of PTSD, the militarization of the police, and the spread of war-zone technology like drones and stingrays to the “homeland.” Fourteen years of that un-American word “homeland.” Fourteen years of the expansion of surveillance of every kind and of the development of a global surveillance system whose reach—from foreign leaders to tribal groups in the backlands of the planet—would have stunned those running the totalitarian states of the twentieth century. Fourteen years of the financial starvation of America’s infrastructure and still not a single mile of high-speed rail built anywhere in the country. Fourteen years in which to launch Afghan War 2.0, Iraq Wars 2.0 and 3.0, and Syria War 1.0. Fourteen years, that is, of the improbable made probable.
Fourteen years later, thanks a heap, Osama bin Laden. With a small number of supporters, $400,000-$500,000, and 19 suicidal hijackers, most of them Saudis, you pulled off a geopolitical magic trick of the first order.