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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.

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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.

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“I Wanted To Remind Us We Were People”

Pritchard:

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.

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Pritchard:

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.

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All images were first published in the LA Weekly, 2015.

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ELANA PRITCHARD

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.

PERMISSIONS

All images were first published in the LA Weekly, 2015.

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