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There’s a 6 x 12 foot cell in the library at Marquette University in Milwaukee. It’s made of wood not cinderblocks. The toilet mimics the stainless steel of actual cells. This mock-up is intended to grip students and activate petitions and political awareness. Hey, if it’s good for politicians, it’s good for college kids.

I guess the installation — made by the theater department at Madison’s Edgewood College — relies on part shock & awe and part compassion. Students can step inside for a few minutes or can elect a 45 minute stint alone with a Bible or Qur’an and pen and piece of paper, just like prisoners. An iPad and headphones play the sounds of incarceration — the audio comes from a Frontline story on solitary.

I’ve questioned the frequent use of the cell floor-plan at prison art exhibitions (here, here and here), but mapping out the confines of a human-cage isn’t the worst tactic to snag people and have them think about the issue. The United Nations has defined solitary confinement for more than 15 days as torture. People in long term solitary suffer damage comparable to traumatic brain injury. A 6-sided box, with a door might be very effective in provoking response.

Built last year, the cell at Marquette has previously shown on the Capitol steps in Madison and at churches and schools in Wisconsin. Organizers hope more communities and schools will want to display the prison cell. So do I. Let’s get replicas made and installed at every seat of learning in the country. Youngsters need to know about the brutal, crushing systems older Americans have danced into law. Along side many others, the young adults we anoint with education, privilege and upward mobility are important constituents in the resistance movement.

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All images by Michael McLoone / Journal Sentinel.

 

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