Count Time

Prisoner reads a book to pass the time during head count, California.

Unlikely Friends is Leslie Neale‘s third feature length film about prisons, so she knows a thing to two. I have spoken before about the difficulty in photographing the two distinguishing features of prison, namely violence and boredom. The former is rare and the latter endemic. Neale observed the same.

“The subjects of my photos aren’t in Unlikely Friends – they are just photos I managed to click off between directing the crew and interviewing people,” says Neale. “Whenever I go into prisons, I am always struck by the culture created by so many living so close together.  Even though the threat of violence is a constant presence, there is a calm peace and the mundanity is palpable.”

These photographs were made in prisons in California and Florida. They’re not the best images, but I don’t think Neale claims them as such. They simply show moments. These are not stolen moments as the rigamarole and boredom of prison is persistent.

Before scrolling down through the images, I encourage you to pay the Unlikely Friends website a visit and view the trailer. Neale has hit upon a theme that is often discredited in the discussion of prisons – that of forgiveness.

Forgiveness is at a premium in the criminal justice system – not because people are incapable, but rather because the system doesn’t facilitate it. The system keeps victims and offenders at great distances. Those distances often have good reason, but in the event that victim and offender wish to embark upon a restorative process, it can be an uphill battle. This difficulty is something that cropped up in my PPOTR discussion with Gail Brown. Advocates such as Brown do not want to see blind forgiveness for perpetrators of serious crimes but they want to see feasible routes for prisoners to take to make as best amends as is possible and also to come to full accountability for their actions. Forgiveness is wrapped up in hearing the effects of ones crime and learning from victims the often life-changing and deeply saddening repercussions crime can have. I applaud Neale for taking on this unlikely and complex aspect of humanity within an inhuman system.

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As a side note, I first heard of Neale’s filmmaking when I interviewed photographer Ara Oshagan. He shot B-roll on set in Californian juvenile lock-ups during the production of Neale’s documentary Juvies.

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You can also see a few more images by Neale here.

Doing Time

Prisoners read in a dorm room of Moore Haven State Prison, Florida.
Correctional officers at San Quentin State Prison.
Guard Walking
On the Tier
Two prisoners outside their cells on a tier in San Quentin State Prison, California.
Prisoners play chess in San Quentin State Prison.
Doing Life
Prisoner working in his cell at a makeshift desk, San Quentin State Prison, California.
Boots hang outside a cell in San Quentin State Prison, California.
Prisoners in San Quentin State Prison use the phones.
Recreation time for prisoners on the yard of a Florida State Prison.
An old man sits on his bunk in a California State Prison.
“Life lived in dorm housing in a California State Prison.”