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Found photo of an unknown prison cell.

Last week, I was interviewed twice  – firstly, for DVAFOTO and secondly, for HERE BE MONSTERS – about Prison Photography On The Road and my activities since.

The DVAFOTO interview opens with my account of my arrest and 9 hours in jail in late 2011. The HBM podcast is about a workshop I delivered in Sing Sing State Prison, New York.

It may be ironic that I’d get locked-up during a research trip that is questioning incarceration, but it’s not funny and it’s no badge of honour. My actions were foolhardy and the police officer’s actions were over-zealous.

I’ve been thinking beyond what I think about the experience (It was stupid, bureaucratic and inconvenient), and more about how I think of the experience (What insight did I gain? What interactions did I have? Who did I meet?)

Inside the release-tank were about 15 men. They were there for different reasons. One young man faced a significant bail amount for a significant possession offense while another was brought in for cycling drunk in the wrong direction of the cycle path on a quiet road. Some men were in for DUI’s and in some cases not their first DUI. Two or three slept through the hours. Others were quiet and some told stories. The younger ones were more talkative and boastful. Several tried using the phone but only one succeeded. When they found out I was in for peeing on a tree and not answering questions they thought it was lame. Lame offense, lame arrest.

A tray of peanut butter sandwiches was brought in, but not enough. Some jumped on them, others weren’t interested. I think one person got two sandwiches.

Of the men with DUIs, I had little sympathy. They didn’t seem to acknowledge that their actions were potentially lethal. For a couple of them, cash-fines, points on their licenses and driving bans didn’t seem to be much deterrent.

A few men seemed contrite. Others seemed beaten down with either addiction or repeated arrogance.

I had huge sympathy for the drunk cyclist. Maybe in this fifties. Grey hair. He thought he was getting out until the administration realised he was a parolee. The bike-ride proved a violation and he was to be automatically rearrested and jailed for a fixed term. He had a job and children. Because of a night of excess, he was to lose those things again. Sure, his behaviour could have been better, but I think the authority’s response was of excess.

I didn’t ask what they did and they didn’t ask me. It was a small space. It was very dirty but not quite filthy. We only moved our place when others left and they did so in groups of 3 and 4 throughout the hours.

Part of me wishes I’d taken the opportunity to ask some questions, tap some opinions (I may have met a great conversationalist who’d improve my thinking as much as I hoped I might improve his). The other part of me knows only an intrusive nerd would be ask out-of-the-blue questions about personal circumstance and attitudes; especially in a temporarily-occupied cell at an unpredictable time.

No clocks.

Two weeks later: No court appearance. No charges brought.

Why is this relevant? The arrest and dismissal of charges — actually, the incomplete documentation of the arrest and dismissal — almost jeopardised my visit to Sing Sing to carry out a workshop with attentive, challenging, respectful and curious students of the education program there.

An arrest will always feature on a record, whether or not a conviction is brought, so-told me a law enforcement employee over the phone. New York Dept. Of Corrections which administers Sing Sing knew I’d been arrested but the information ceased there. I had to scramble for paperwork (that had not been given to me) to prove I had no criminal record. I wonder how much inefficiency and potential mistakes contribute to unfair and/or heightened levels of control. Frustration must be infinite in the prison industrial complex.

All in all, I’m glad I was able to teach and learn in Sing Sing and doubly happy that Jeff Emtman was able to craft a fine podcast splicing together audio of prisoners speaking, myself speaking, music and sound. Jeff conceived of the podcast titled The Other One Percent, to broadly challenge listeners to think about prisons and solutions.

The class, as a whole, discussed many images but specifically in the HBM audio, Robert Rose, Dennis Martinez, Deshawn Smalls and Jermaine Archer talk about these six images.

The first image mentioned is the one below by Brian Moss …

BrianMoss008

“Fear, I think people would think fear,” says Sing Sing prisoner, Robert Rose. “They can’t see what goes on in here, just as we can’t see much of what goes on out there.”

… then the three below by Alyse Emdur

emdur_ruffbey

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“Something needs to be said about the families who also do time. They are part of the narrative of mass incarceration, but they’re not talked about. They end up carrying the burden,” says Deshawn Smalls, Sing Sing prisoner.

emdur_buntyn

… and finally, the two images below by Richard Ross of juvenile facilities.

Richard_Ross_10

Sing Sing prisoner, Jeremy says, “You may have a man who refused [to adhere to regulations] and this is him in this picture. You probably won’t see the man at first, but he is there.”

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HERE BE MONSTERS (HBM) is a podcast audio series about fear and the unknown, by Jeff Emtman, a 2012 Soundcloud Community Fellow.

HBM has previously covered Juggalo culture; placenta medicine; train-hopping; the disillusion and resignation of a favored NPR correspondent; a children’s book about a hallucinogenic trip; and the mind-made images created by the human brain when the body and the eyes experience total darkness – a condition known as ‘Prisoners Cinema.’

I like what Jeff is doing. I’m happy to share my experiences with him.

If you’re still interested in what I’m up to, I cover my immediate plans in the DVAFOTO interview. We also talk about what bloggers can do and do do.

LINKS

The Other One Percent (Here Be Monsters podcast)

Interview: Pete Brook On The Road (DVAFOTO)

EMAIL

prisonphotography [at] gmail [dot] com

@BROOKPETE ON TWITTER

Prison Photography Archives

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