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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

I argue that GEO’s motive, in Karnes Co., for assuming the responsibility of an expand family detention facility is profit. This autumn, GEO Group stock hit a 52-week high.

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

Read up about the case.

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 tuff@grassrootsleadership.org

PETITION

Again, please, sign the petition.

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Journalist D. Brian Burghart of the Reno News & Review was aghast to discover that there is no national database about the killing of citizens by law enforcement.

As a result, he decided to make one. With our help. Burghart explains his reason to Gawker:

The biggest thing I’ve taken away from this project is something I’ll never be able to prove, but I’m convinced to my core: The lack of such a database is intentional. No government—not the federal government, and not the thousands of municipalities that give their police forces license to use deadly force—wants you to know how many people it kills and why.

It’s the only conclusion that can be drawn from the evidence. What evidence? In attempting to collect this information, I was lied to and delayed by the FBI, even when I was only trying to find out the addresses of police departments to make public records requests. The government collects millions of bits of data annually about law enforcement in its Uniform Crime Report, but it doesn’t collect information about the most consequential act a law enforcer can do.

How do you help?

Go to www.fatalencounters.org.

Research one of the listed shootings, fill out the row, and change its background color. It’ll take you about 25 minutes. There are thousands to choose from, and another 2,000 or so on Burghart’s cloud drive that he haven’t even added yet.

After your additions, Burghart will fact-check and fill in the cracks. Your contribution will be added to largest database about police violence in the country. Check out what has been collected about your locale’s information here.

Fatal Encounters can be found here, and is on Twitter at @FatalEncounters.

It’s been a long week. Spending most of ones time in front of a screen can get isolating. Built into online publishing is the ever-present wonder about how ones work is received on the screens and in the minds of readers.

That’s why letters such as this are the perfect tonic for doubt and fatigue. Sustaining words.

Hi Mr. Pete Brook

I like your webpage so so much. Thank you. I didn’t think there was a webpage for prison pics till my good friend Samara from my 12-step group showed me. I really love your new article about the two brothers. It is my favorite of yours articles so far. I was incarcerated. My dad has been locked up. Mom has been locked up. My bros have been locked up. I feel like I could put my own family in those pics from the two brothers project and it would be the same emotions. I really love that project. The pics brought tears to my eyes cause I felt grief sadness that I don’t think about much. I felt my innocence. I did feel peace looking at them 2. 

Thanks for reading my letter Mr. Brook. Have a blessed Christmas and New Years 2015.

Maria.

And onward to next week. And the one after that.

2041

2041

HERE PRESS has done it again; it has produced a book that allows us an irresistible glimpse into foreign space and psychology. 2041 is a collection of self-portraits, made by a man, donning makeshift burqas and niqabs, in his home in England.

The title 2041 refers to the name by which the man is known. “2041” made thousands of images with the express intent to share them online with fellow full-coverage enthusiasts.

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“Using the camera to articulate a passion he has secretly indulged for decades, the artist appears dozens of times without ever disclosing his image or identity,” says the HERE press release. “Long before 2041 bought his first real burqa online, he began crafting his own versions from draped and folded fabrics in a rich array of textures and colours … ranging from the traditional to the theatrical.”

2041 is part of a connected online community of men and women from across Western Europe and the Gulf States. They are Christians, Muslims and without religion.

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This is a gripping book and look into a world that cannot be fully known, nor can be fully verified. What is interesting, therefore, is that without identifiable subjects, the veracity of photography collapses. Or, at the least, we have to completely shift our expectations about what photography provides. The book 2041 is working on, and with, many levels. There’s a motivation by HERE to celebrate photography by revealing its limits and capacity. Despite a reliance on images to connect themselves, 2041 and his cohorts are inhabiting the unphotographable.

As such, 2041 is a playful but earnest exposé of the photographic medium as much as it is this small web of like-minded folks.

A similar type of mood persists in previous titles by HERE. Harry Hardie and Ben Weaver skirt the outer territories of our photo-landscape and delineate the edges. Edmund Clark’s Control Order House took us inside the ordinary domestic spaces of a terror suspect under house arrest. Power was described precisely by what was not photographed. Jason Lazarus’ Nirvana took us into grunge-infused personal histories; the photographs were just a foil to get subjects feting up about beautiful and traumatic pasts.

I, for one, am getting quite excited by HERE’s growing catalogue of ever-so-slightly-disconcerting photobooks.

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Between the internet and the veil 2041’s anonymity folds and billows. He remembers the enveloping cassocks and cottas he wore as a choirboy. As an adult, he moved toward total covering. In the early millennium, 2041 his bought his first computer and plugged into an online community that shared his passion.

“What almost all [of the people covering themselves] seem to crave is transcendence of the physical self – or at least being judged on the physical – coupled with the excitement of observing the world unseen, safely cocooned in luxuriant fabrics,” says HERE. “This is the burqa seen in a celebratory light.”

Naturally, I have lots of questions so I dropped Harry at HERE PRESS a line. He put me in touch with Lewis Chaplin who is co-founder of Fourteen Nineteen, but more importantly co-editor of 2041.

Scroll down for our Q&A

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Q&A

Prison Photography (PP): Where did you first see and hear about 2041’s photographs?

Lewis Chaplin (LC): I first found these images almost four years ago, while researching emergent subcultures of fetishists/obsessives who were finding community and likemindedness through the internet. Many of these people use Flickr in particular to indulge in their private desires, and it was here that I found 2041’s images. I was struck by the rigidity, flatness and compositional skills that his images had. Compared to most who used the image more as a byproduct or vehicle to access their fetishes, 2041’s images seemed more like the images were performed for the camera and the camera only, for the sake of documentation, rather than for anything else.

PP: Is the book 2041 made in collaboration with the subject? If so, how did you make contact, build trust, ensure discretion?

LC: Yes, it is fully collaborative. Contact was made initially by Harry Hardie , who introduced himself as a publisher, and then I was bought into the conversation. I began a regular correspondence with him, which culminated in a face-to-face meeting and then visits to his house, where we collaborated and photographed each other, and I went through his image archives.

PP: Have all the pictures been verified? Can we know it is the same person under the burqas and niqabs in all the pictures? Does verification matter? Is not knowing something in absolute certainty one of the facets of the images and their use?

LC: I can verify 90% of them through their EXIF data, as we have had access to raw camera files. However, it is not necessarily the same person concealed. I think it is this lack of verification that is the titilating point of these images. Beneath the veil, your physical identity shrinks into a few gestures and outlines, and you can take on the form and countenance of another.

Even now there are images which Ben Weaver (HERE PRESS)  and I cannot decide whether they depict our protagonist or others. To be certain though – this form of image-making is a firmly social practice, one based around solid online and offline networks. A few images in the book give this away, and were you to find 2041 online you would find images of me concealed, for example.

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PP: Why did you want to make this book?

LC: Because I think that unlike many of the images made by people with strange interests on the internet, these images say something very complex about photography. What I like about these images is that there is that they are purely performative gestures – but yet they give nothing away. They reveal the presence of an individual, but not their likeness, or an accurate representation. Something about the concealment of desire, or the hiding of the true likeness of an object in these images actually feels like a very nuanced statement on photography, that at no stage in the process ever actually tries to use the camera to bear any details, or describe anything accurately.

PP: How many potential subjects and/or images did you have to choose from in making the book? What makes 2041’s images special — some aspects of aesthetics, or merely their availability?

LC: It wasn’t so much a matter of choice, more that these images asked for some kind of sequencing and exploring. There is definitely an aesthetic dimension of these images that is appealing – the composition and contrast between flatness and texture, the shapes are unlike others I have seen – and there is also a lot of time and effort that has gone into these. 2041 is also an actor, and a painter. You can see the influence of classical painting on some of his poses and crops. He is also akin to humour and self-deprecation, you can see it sometimes.

PP: 2041 wishes to remain anonymous. Obviously, as the editor, you’re a legitimate proxy to whom I can talk. I want to ask what 2041 thinks of the book?

LC: Let’s ask him once he has seen it!

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PP: What do members of the online burqa fetish community think? What do you think they might think?

LC: I don’t think it has made its way through to these channels, but I would hope that what they see here is that we are not trying to ridicule or pass judgement through our scrutiny. This book I hope comes off as a sincere tribute to photography being used in a genuinely interesting way that talks about self-perception, the way images are used on the internet and so many other things, through the prism of a very personal, domestic and specific application of the camera.

PP: Do we understand what the burqa is and what it does?

LC: In these images the burqa, niqab or any other Muslim garment is a means to an end in some way. You can see in some of 2041’s experimentations that it is just about complete coverage through any means. He is not wearing a burqa in most images, in fact. The removal of physical presence is the goal here – it is never about using the burqa in a subversive or political way.

PP: Thanks, Lewis.

LC: Thank you, Pete.

2041

2041, the book

170 x 240mm, 120pp + 6pp insert
72 photographs + 1 illustration
Offset lithoprint on coated & uncoated paper Sewn in sections with loose dust jacket
Foil title
Choice of 3 cover ‘photo insert’ cards
Text, illustration & photographs by 2041
Edited & designed by Lewis Chaplin & Ben Weaver Edition of 500.

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When I was growing up, the dad of some kids at my school worked at the local prison. I had no idea what his day-to-day responsibilities were. Still don’t. This despite the fact I’ve since worked with, been on holiday with, and spent many weekends with the brothers and sisters in the family.

I have no idea, if the dad was involved in some extra curricula or fraternal pursuits; I don’t know if he wanted to even hang out with his co-workers outside of the prison. His job was a fact, but an unexplored and little discussed fact in the parish.

I also had no idea that the England Prison Service Football Association (EPSFA) existed. Not until Positive Magazine featured Riccardo Raspa‘s photographs did I learn of this 40-year-old organisation.

These are the best footballers in the country who happen to work as full-time prison guards.

The EPSFA arranges games between it and RAF, Army, and university football teams and other. It is fed by four regional teams made of the prison guards with the silkiest skills. Raspa photographed a single game and also followed one prison officer inside to photograph him at work. As such the information sways between the recreational tone of sport and the more serious business of control and power behind the bars.

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Positive Magazine quotes, Michael Hayde, the England Prison Service coach as saying, “If a prisoner finds out what you are involved in and to what level it does make a difference to how they react and treat you.” And I can believe it. Football, particularly in Britain, is the great equaliser. It’s as accessible as chat about the weather or what you had for your dinner last night.

I’m almost inexplicably drawn to this project. The pictures are quite ordinary but they’re shot with care and some respect.

My care is probably due to nostalgia for the smells and sounds of an evening football match in Blighty and the unexpectedness of this project. (This story would never emerge in America).

But also, the prison staff are humanised here. I’ve said many times before that prisons, especially in America, are toxic places and everyone suffers to some degree. Prison staff are derided as second rate cops or, worse still, glorified babysitters. It’s a tough job and the disproportionately high levels of relationship/marriage failure and drug & alcohol abuse among prison employees testifies to that. Yes, there are corrupt officials and yes, abusive state employees are less seen — and possibly even ignored — because of the feared population they work with. That said, we cannot decarcerate and we cannot radically scale back on prisons if we are not focused on alternatives to incarceration. Bile and hatred for a profession will get us nowhere; it will only distract our energies from finding solutions. And that’s coming from someone who is well aware of the messed-up-shit prison guards have done when no-one is watching.

It is precisely because Raspa’s photographs ask us to view prison officers as individuals that I wanted to include it on the blog. It’s a tough proposition in many ways.

Megan Slade, author of the Positive Magazine, article thinks the EPSFA has got short shrift in the media.

“Despite being a national football team,” writes Slade, “little or rather hardly any press has been covered of the EPSFA, whether due to the nature of the profession this team is part of, or perhaps mainstream football leagues overshadow lesser known associations, they seem to go unnoticed.”

This is not surprising. I guess the quality of football is only just a small step above sunday league stuff. The operations of an amateur football team rarely warrant media spotlight — it has to be an exceptional case.

The lack of coverage here is nothing to be surprised or appalled by. In fact, it is wholly consistent with the distribution of everyday prison stories — you know the ones not about escape, riots, celebrity inmates, serial killers or dog-training programs.

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All images: Riccardo Raspa.

You can follow Riccardo Raspa through his website, on his Tumblr, and Twitter.

 

 

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BEYOND PRISON PICTURES

Isadora Kosofsky insists her project Vinny and David is not centered in narratives of incarceration.

“It is,” she says, “about a family and the battle between love and loss.”

Given that approximately a quarter of the images in the series were shot inside a locked facility, that inititally seems a strange claim. Furthermore, as I look through Vinny and David, it seems as if the only certainly in the lives of they and their family is uncertainty, specifically an uncertainty brought about by incarceration and its collateral effects.

However, this is where we need to feel as well as look. This is where we need to spend time with Kosofsky’s subjects. If we do, we realise the photographer’s insistence is spot on. She wants to portray the boys not as prisoners, but as young people who happen to have spent time in prison. The distinction is important; it’s the only way she thinks her audience can empathize and connect.

YOUNG PHOTOGRAPHER, YOUNG SUBJECTS

Kosofsky met the younger brother, Vinny, first. It was late on a Tuesday night in a New Mexico juvenile detention center. As he posed for his mug shot, Vinny turned to the police officer to check he was standing on the right spot. Kosofsky watched Vinny enter the D-unit and silently sit in front of the television. He picked an isolated chair.

“When I met Vinny, I was 18 years old,” says Kosofsky. “I had previously documented young males in three different juvenile detention centers and youth prisons. Photographing my subjects in a detention environment limited their identities for I could only show a fragment of their lives. Vinny stood out amongst many of the males I met. He was the youngest boy in his unit, just age 13, but full of wisdom and sensitivity.”

Vinny was detained because he stabbed the man who was assaulting his mother.

“When my mom was being beat up, I was so scared. I wanted to defend my mom,” Vinny told Kosofsky. “I’m tired of seeing my mom get hurt.”

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While Vinny was in the juvenile detention center, his older brother David, then age 19, was released from a nearby adult facility. David had been in and out of juvenile and adult correctional systems. He had been introduced to drug dealing at age 10. After his father went to prison, David was placed in foster care. At 14, David’s mother, Eve, was given custody, and David joined Vinny and two younger siblings, Michael and Elycia.

“David and Vinny have experienced deep loss and betrayal but yearn for love and a restored family,” says Kosofsky. “In the midst of turmoil, Vinny and David try to assume the hopefulness of youth. Vinny describes David as a father figure, and David views Vinny as the only person who appreciates him.”

COVERAGE AND RESPONSE

The series Vinny and David has received recent coverage in TIME and Slate. And plaudits.

Soon after the TIME feature, I received an email from a previously incarcerated man who described himself as an artist-activist. His opinion would suggest that Kosofsky was successful in her efforts to build a connection between the brothers and her audience.

“Unlike much work out there, this project shows humanity,” emailed the former prisoner. “People who have not been incarcerated may not realize the impact of this project but it is revolutionary. I have looked through a lot of photography, art and writing about incarceration. Kosofsky shows incarcerated males in a sensitive light. The pictures are heartbreaking and necessary. For a young girl, only 18, to have the courage to do a project like this is mind blowing. It is a rebellion.”

Coming from somebody familiar with the system, such an endorsement is better than anything I could give.

In spite of widespread coverage of Vinny and David in mainstream media, she and I were determined to produce something here on the blog, so I pitched a few questions that try to needle the gaps in the previous pieces and to bring us up to date on how Vinny, David and the family are doing now.

Please scroll down for our Q&A.

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You can click any image to see it larger.

Q & A

Prison Photography (PP): You’ve mentioned a particular an ineffable connection with Vinny. How did that create moments for you to make powerful photographs?

Isadora Kosofsky (IK): In a prison environment that often promotes restraint, Vinny immediately revealed vulnerability, and tears fell down his cheeks as he spoke to me.

PP: He was different.

IK: The more intimate I am with my subjects, the more affective the image. Individuals, especially young males who are typically guarded, show vulnerability in front of the camera when they sense commitment and earnestness. I must share in my subjects’ struggles over a sustained period of time in order to forge a bond. I knew it would be a lengthy process before I could photograph moments from David’s life when his “mask,” as he calls it, was off.

I can’t drop into someone’s life, take pictures and then leave with those memories. The relationships I form with the individuals I photograph are more important to me than the actual image making.

Since I have never been incarcerated, I initially couldn’t empathize with Vinny’s incarceration. No one can say they know what it felt like for Vinny, at age 13, to be taken from his mother, handcuffed in the back of a police car, brought to a unit of strangers and handed a pillow. Yet, partaking in his and David’s life over time allowed me to recognize shared characteristics and emotions that brought me even closer to them.

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PP: Do you think the power of the work might also rest on the fact that Vinny (as well as David and the family) is representative of so many children effected negatively by criminal justice in America?

IK: I hope the impact of the work lies in my intent to document Vinny and David’s story as I would that of my own family. I didn’t choose to photograph them because I felt that their situation was emblematic of a larger social issue. I chose to photograph them because I have an affinity to the love between two brothers who happened to both experience incarceration. Above all, I wanted this project to command a humanistic standpoint. I feel that there is already so much work about the system itself. Shooting solely at the jail site made it difficult for me to create a documentation that the greater society could identify with. I wanted to photograph Vinny and David in a relatable manner so that those looking at the images might feel that they could be their friend, sibling or son.

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PP: Why did you want to shoot in a prison? Frankly, it’s the last thing on the mind of most 18 year olds.

IK: Ever since I was 15, I wanted to photograph inside a detention center. Unfortunately, due to my status as a minor, the administrators of the domestic facilities to which I submitted proposals rejected me. However, when I turned 18 and resubmitted my applications to the same facilities, some responded favorably, and I was granted access. I draw inspiration for my projects from childhood and personal experience. I began photographing when I was about 14, focusing mainly on the lives of the elderly. Around this time, I had a group of friends for whom delinquency resulted in police intervention. Some of them had been in juvenile detention, while others were on probation or had just been released from boys’ disciplinary camp.

We would meet at a shopping mall, where many teenagers gathered every Friday night, and they would tell me about their experiences with the juvenile justice system. I became particularly close to one male, and we began to spend time together outside our social group. He was the emotionally present listener whom I deeply needed at that time in my life. Unfortunately, my friend was arrested, and I lost contact with him.

Almost a year later, as I was photographing elderly women in retirement homes, I began to envision new projects and started to write proposals to correctional facilities. Even though 18 is young, I never thought of my age as a deterrent. I consciously wanted to be a young person photographing other young people.

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PP: How have your thoughts about the prison industrial complex changed over the course of the work?

IK: One aspect that has struck me profoundly is that when one member is incarcerated, the whole family is too. As a relative or friend, one is powerless to intervene, waiting hours for phone calls, weeks for visits and years for legal decisions and then release, sometimes with an unknown date.

Incarceration is, paradoxically, a solitary and collective experience. Detainment isn’t localized just to a facility, for it leaves profound psychological effects, as it did on Vinny and David’s development. When David was cycling in and out of jail, a looming fear of loss hovered over the entire family.

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PP: What can photography do, if anything, in the face of mass incarceration?

IK: I don’t know what photography can do in the face of mass incarceration. Every documentary photographer wants his or her images to repair the world. Ever since I shot my first picture, I have been guilty of this idealism. I strongly feel that a form of change occurs every time a viewer internalizes poignant images. We need more humanistic photography of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated youth. They are often individuals who come from troubled homes, and when we reject them visually and orally, we participate in reenacting their trauma.

We need to stop making their stories that of “others” and make their lives part of ours. When people look at the photographs of Vinny and David, I can only hope they empathize. I would then feel I have accomplished what I told this family I would do.

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PP: How is the family doing today?

IK: Vinny, who just turned 16, has moved in with David, who now has a job and lives in his own apartment. David is committed to his role as a father. Both brothers are trying to establish a peaceful life after a traumatic upbringing and are optimistic that they will succeed. Healing is a slow process.

PP: Thanks, Isadora.

IK: Thank you, Pete.

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Tweet

Emily Thornberry, the now former Attorney General for the Labour Party, the main opposition party in the UK tweeted this photo of a house with the caption “Image from #Rochester”

If I’m ever buried to my eyeballs in work and juggling a dozens stories a once, and if I feel like I’m doing lots of things average and none of them well, and if I ever feel like my stated commitment to imagery and politics in society is lagging, waning or absent, and I ever wonder if thinking and publishing on these things is actually worthwhile, a story from nowhere crops up and reminds me exactly why photography is surprising, ridiculous, ineffable and constantly in need of examination and appreciation.

Emily Thornberry, Attorney General for the Labour Party, the main opposition party in the UK lost her job because she tweeted the photo above.

It’s an amazingly quick unravelling of events for Thornberry — one consistent with the swiftness of media and exchange. Her tweet was aimed at no-one and everyone at the same time. Snark that endears no-one because it only unearths the latent lack of connections currently felt between the strata of English society.

It’s a personal attack of sorts. Maybe, even, classless?!

To me and ever other English person it is obvious why. In America everyone and their grannies hang up flags. But in Britain, the St. George’s flag has become synonymous with the working classes, plain living, no-nonsense attitudes. It’s an open secret that the working classes are mocked for their, well, lack of class. It’s a stereotype that is damaging and divisive and keeps people down.

Thornberry relied on the laziest of stereotypes to throw some shade at “hard-working English men” as Prime Minister David Cameron put it. Opportunism by Cameron (a man of the upper classes) for sure, but a fair assessment of Thornberry’s dismissal of this family, home and culture.

This story reminds me how imagery is entirely culturally relative. How we are all raised with different associations readings and literacy as far as images are concerned.

It also reminds me of the power of photography. One foolish slip by Thornberry (I don’t doubt she is scornful of working classes, she just made the mistake to express it) and she’s gone. A whole career ruined and probably a parliamentary seat lost.

Read more at the Guardian here and here.

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Larry Mayes Larry Mayes Scene of arrest, The Royal Inn, Gary, Indiana. Police found Mayes hiding beneath a mattress in this room. Served 18.5 years of an 80-year sentence for Rape, Robbery, and Unlawful Deviate Conduct, 2002. Chromogenic print, 48 x 60 inches (121.9 x 152.4 cm), Edition of 5. © Taryn Simon

It probably doesn’t need me to tell you that The Marshall Project launched this week.

Ever since Bill Keller announced his departure, after 30 years, from the New York Times to take up the editor in chief role at the Marshall Project, people have wondered what could possibly emerge from within a new “nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization covering America’s criminal justice system.”

Early output is good.

STAFF & STORIES

Pre-launch, The Marshall Project published two pieces of investigation — Dana Goldstein wrote about youth corrections in West Virginia; and Maurice Possley recovered and uncovered the startling facts of Cameron Todd Willingham‘s wrongful conviction and execution.

Upon launch, Ken Armstrong looked at a legal quirk that literally effects life and death (Parts One and Two). Keller and managing editor Tim Golden interviewed outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder about many things including his attitude toward the death penalty.

Lisa Iaboni revisited Taryn Simon’s groundbreaking series The Innocents, for which Simon asked wrongfully accused men following their exoneration to pose for portraits at the sites of alibi, crime or with the original victims of the crime.

I interpret these three features as not coincidental to one another. The documented mistakes in the application of the death penalty — and the consequent murder-by-the-state of innocent people — is a barometer to shortcomings in the wider criminal justice system. Stories of life and death usual force people to sit up and take notice.

Elsewhere on the site, Andrew Cohen‘s been busy examining racial disparity in policing in the aftermath of Ferguson, the crisis in the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and asking if mass incarceration is going away.

John Lennon speaks to a case of aging in Attica; Simone Weischelbaum looks at improvised make-up (fake-up) in women’s prisons; and Ivan Vong has produced an interactive of all the stats associated with the U.S. criminal justice system.

The team of journalists assembled is impressive. The visuals should be good too. One of the two managing editors is Gabriel Dance who won a Pulitzer Prize with The Guardian for his team’s data visualisation of the NSA leak. Probably the best way to acquaint yourself with the people is with this Twitter list of Marshall Project Staff.

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DOLLARS & DOING

The great unknown about this venture is the money. It’s not likely journalism grants will cover the great expense to cover investigative reporting on these matters. Money from super-wealthy individuals will play a key part. Here’s what we do know.

Thus far, the Marshall Project has partnered with Slate and the Washington Post and plans to team with other established media as and when needed to amplify the reach of the reporting. The Marshall Project has hit the ground sprinting and I’m intrigued by the possibilities. In some ways, I am surprised it has taken so long for a single issue outfit focused on criminal justice to emerge. The need has been around for a long time.

There’s lots more to come and you’re probably wise to sign up for their email blast Opening Statement.

Here’s some of Keller’s launch statement:

We are not here to promote any particular agenda or ideology. But we have a sense of mission. We want to move the discussion of our institutions of justice — law enforcement, courts, prisons, probation — to a more central place in our national dialogue. We believe, as the great jurist Thurgood Marshall did, that protection under the law is the most fundamental civil right in a free society. Yet, by the numbers, the United States is a global outlier, with a prison population matched by no nation except, possibly, North Korea, with a justice system that disproportionately afflicts communities of need and of color, with a corrections regime that rarely corrects.

We aim to accomplish our mission through probing, fair-minded journalism, combining investigative rigor, careful analysis, and lively storytelling. We will examine the failings of our criminal justice system — but also test promising reforms. While a number of news organizations are doing distinguished reporting on crime and punishment, the journalistic energy devoted to this kind of reporting — time consuming and expensive as it is — has been sapped by the financial traumas of the news industry. Our aim is both to restore some of that lost energy and to be a catalyst for coverage elsewhere. We will publish the fruits of our reporting here and expand our audience by collaborating with first-rate newspapers, magazines, broadcasters and other online news sites.

In addition to our original reporting, we will compile the most interesting news and commentary from around the world of criminal justice, distributing our findings in our daily email, and offering this site as a hub for debate and accord. We are nonpartisan and non-ideological, which means you will find here the voices of progressives and conservatives, centrists and provocateurs. As it happens, criminal justice is one of the few areas of public policy where there is a significant patch of common ground between right and left.

Keller closes his welcome with an invitation to respond in the ‘Letters to the Editor’ feature. Get writing.

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