THE TIME IS NOW
On the 13th October, the Supreme Court of the United States will convene to rule on Montgomery v Louisiana. Essentially, the decision will be made as to whether the ban on Juvenile Life Without the Possibility of Parole (handed down by Miller v Alabama in 2012) should apply retroactively. That is, should men who were tried as adults and convicted to LWOP before 2012 have their cases and sentences re-adjudicated?
Of course, I hope that we’ll see some return to common sense and see the United Sates turn toward the practices of the rest of the industrialised world by not putting kids in boxes for the rest of their natural lives.
At this crucial political moment, a new, interactive archive has launched online that brings the stories, images, characters and history of JLWOP to you.
The Natural Life Archive is a collection of extended interviews and portraits from the film Natural Life. Filmmaker Tirtza Even is harnessing the internet to bring us dozens of hours of testimony that she just wasn’t able to fit into her film. The archive is the third and final component of Natural Life — 1. the feature length single-channel video; 2. a gallery installation; and 3. this interactive online archive.
The project, produced and directed by Tirtza Even alongside the legal efforts of the Law Offices of Deborah LaBelle, challenges inequities in the U.S. juvenile justice system by depicting, through documentation and reenactment, the stories of five individuals who were sentenced to Life Without Parole (Natural Life) for crimes they committed as youth. The five will never be evaluated for change, difference or growth. They will remain in prison till they die.
There are over 2500 inmates in the U.S. who are serving a Life Without Parole sentence for a crime they committed as juveniles. The U.S. is the only country in the world that allows Life Without Parole sentencing for youth. The project’s goal is to portray the ripple-effect that the sentence has had not only on the incarcerated youth and their victims, but also on the community at large.
The video data accessible through the online archive is interfaced through a two-tiered navigable Quicktime movie. On the lower tier are phone interviews with the featured characters, coupled with staged scenes of life in prison reenacted by a group of high-school actors, and shot at an abandoned prison in Michigan. On the tier above is material drawn from over 50 hours of interviews with individuals who were involved with the crime, the arrest and the sentencing of the featured inmates. Among them judges, lawyers, police officers, reporters, wardens, teachers, child psychiatrists, legal experts and victims’ family members. The interviews are grouped in association with each of the featured inmates’ stories and are selected by moving the cursor to the right or left side of the image.
Tirtza Even is a practicing video artist and documentary maker, producing both linear and interactive documentary video work that represents the less overt manifestations of complex and sometimes extreme social/political dynamics in specific locations (e.g. Palestine, Turkey, Spain, the U.S. and Germany, among others). Even’s work has appeared at the Museum of Modern Art, NY, at the Whitney Biennial, the Johannesburg Biennial, as well as in many other festivals, galleries and museums in the United States, Israel and Europe, and has been purchased for the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art (NY), the Jewish Museum (NY), the Israel Museum (Jerusalem), among others.
Deborah LaBelle is an attorney, professor, writer and advocate who focuses on the application of human rights for marginalized communities. She has been lead counsel in over a dozen class actions that have successfully challenged policies affecting the treatment of incarcerated men, women and juveniles and their families. Ms. LaBelle is a Senior Soros Justice Fellow and, the first American recognized by Human Rights Watch as a Human Rights Monitor. In addition to her private practice, she is director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Juvenile Life Without Parole Initiative. Ms. LaBelle is a recipient of Michigan’s State Bar Champion of Justice Award, recognized as one of Michigan’s top lawyers and received the National Trial Lawyer of the Year Award from the Public Interest Foundation (2008) and National Lawyer Guild’s Law for the People Award (2008). She received the Wade Hampton McCree Jr. Award for the advancement of social justice presented by the Federal Bar (2009) and the Susan B. Anthony Award from the University of Michigan (2010).