This article was originally published as Vinny: David, Mon Frere, in French translation in Polka, Issue 39.

Vinny and David is a story about two brothers coming of age in New Mexico. Growing up with near absent fathers and a loving but struggling mother, Vinny and David came to rely on, and love, one another. They have both been incarcerated but their lives are more than the prisons, poverty and addictions that have inundated their young lives. Isadora Kosofsky has been photographing the siblings and their family for five years.

“You’ve taken the pictures that show what we are feeling inside,” says David. “The photos that go inside us.”

Kosofsky gets close. She consciously develops friendships first. Sometimes those friendships develop into a long-term project, sometimes not. At aged 24, she been documenting Vinny and David for nearly a quarter of her life.

“I must share in my subjects’ struggles over a sustained period of time in order to forge a bond. The relationships are more important to me than the actual image making,” she says.

 

 

The long association began one evening in 2012 in the juvenile detention center in Albuquerque. Vinny, aged 13, had just been arrested for stabbing a man who was assaulting his mother, Eve. Once he took his seat, Kosofsky introduced herself and listened. Though young, Vinny was full of wisdom and sensitivity.

“He spoke extensively about his relationship with his older brother,” says Kosofsky, “particularly talking about wanting his brother’s attention. What I had learned about Vinny and David’s brotherly relationship intrigued me, and I knew that in order to document Vinny’s life, I had to include David.”

One of the reasons Vinny was compelled to defend his mother was David’s absence. David was locked up, in the local county jail. Between 2011 and 2014, while awaiting trial for aggravated assault, David was repeatedly locked up for parole violations—either failure to check in with his parole officer or a dirty urine analysis.

After one-month, Vinny was released. The man he stabbed was not seriously injured. Vinny has not returned to jail since.

 

 

David got out of jail a couple of weeks before Vinny. Felicia, who was then David’s girlfriend, remembers only one good thing from that time: Vinny’s phone-call, from juvenile hall, on the day David was released.

“Vinny told David for the first time that he loved him, and that he was his brother,” says Felicia. “It brought them closer.”

Kosofsky asked the family if she could document them in their daily lives. Vinny doubted they’d agree to it, but they did. David was the most guarded. It was a year before his “mask” came off and Kosofsky was able to capture moments of his life.

Exposure to the prison system has marked effects on the whole family. Kosofsky describes Vinny, Davids and the family’s lives as ‘transcarceral’.

“As a relative or friend, one is powerless to intervene, waiting hours for phone calls, weeks for visits and years for legal decisions and then release, sometimes with an unknown date,” she says. “When David was cycling in and out of jail, a looming fear of loss hovered over the entire family.”

 

 

Furthermore, incarceration only adds to the emotional and financial stress of life, particularly so in New Mexico, the 49th poorest U.S. state. Children from lower-economic backgrounds are disproportionately impacted by incarceration.

In 2015, the most recent year’s figures available, approximately 921,600 juveniles were arrested. On any given night there are 40,970 children behind bars. With an average cost of $80,000 per year to lock up a child, the U.S. spends more than $5 billion annually on youth detention. The Justice Policy Institute estimates the long-term consequences of incarcerating young people could cost taxpayers $8 billion to $21 billion each year. New Mexico spends $74 million per year on supervision and services for youth in the system.

The rate of youth incarceration and spending wasn’t always so high. Throughout the 80s and 90s, politicians across the spectrum rallied votes by promising to be tough on crime. But, lawmakers failed to adequately distinguish between the transgressions of adults and the waywardness of youth. Juvenile systems built facilities that functioned like adult prisons. Youth were warehoused for longer sentences and rehabilitation was sidelined or suspended all together.

Fortunately, recent years have shown a move away from youth incarceration. States now realize that prisons do not reduce recidivism as effectively as other interventions. Prisons harm youth.

 

 

In April 2017, New Mexico received millions of dollars from the U.S. Justice Department to establish more appropriate, non-custodial, responses to parole violations. This will have real world effects. For example, had David’s parole violations occurred under these new rules, he would not have been in and out of prison more than ten times since 2011.

The number of youth now referred to the juvenile justice system is 50% lower than in 2009. The number of youth in New Mexico on probation has declined by 55%. There are fewer youth in New Mexico’s juvenile justice system now than at any time in the last decade.

 

     

 

 

As well as helping the public see the connections between poverty, addiction and incarceration, Kosofsky’s work has helped the family see themselves.

“All these pictures, every one of them,” says David, “bring back these memories to everyone in my family. It reminds us of what dope has done. What incarceration has done. What we have lost. The last five years,” says David. “It’s a fall out for my family. Especially myself.”

 

 

In the past, Vinny has looked at David as a father figure. David views Vinny as the only person who appreciates him. But David’s repeated absence has strained their relationship. Vinny feels his brother has let himself and his family down.

“I see two brothers who love each other unconditionally but one brother wasn’t there when he needed him to be. The younger brother,“ says Vinny about himself, “had to become the more mature brother.”

Now 18, Vinny is married with a one-year-old daughter, Jordyn. He’s staying away from trouble in a way he wishes his older brother would.

“I have my job, I’m relied on and I’m still employed. As long as I have income, I can support my child. It has brought responsibility and adulthood.”

 

 

Every time David strays he feels guilt. He wouldn’t argue with Vinny about having let him down.

“When I think about the photos of me in jail,” reflects David, “I think of how I don’t realize my actions until I’ve already reacted. You regret a lot of things in jail. A lot of things that you can’t change.”

Throughout Kosofsky’s photos, family members drape over each other, they hold one another and hold each other up. They entwine and grasp as if to tap some collective energy. A sense of exhaustion is pervasive, but exhaustion is held at bay by the love and (literal) support of loved ones.

The years have conjured visual repetitions too. In a recent photo, Vinny cradles his baby in the same way Eve cradled him and his siblings years ago. Vinny now lays on a motel bed with his wife Krystle, just as he did with his brother during their closer, more vulnerable times, years past.

 

 

In play, in grooming, in rest, the family gravitates toward physical touch. Perhaps they do this because they know that prison, child protective services and the courts can deny, and have denied, them proximity to one another. The project may have started in a prison but has extended far beyond.

“It’s about a relationship of a family,” says Vinny.

Vinny and David was part of Juveniles In Prison, and After, an exhibition of Kosofsky’s work debuted at Visa pour l’Image in Perpignan, France, September 2nd-23rd. This Polka article was commissioned in response to the show.

Images from Vinny and David were shown on Capitol Hill when Senate Bill 1524, also known as The Dignity Act, was introduced to senate by Cory Booker (co-sponsored by senators Elizabeth Warren, Richard Durbin and Kamala Harris).

In October 2017, Kosofsky was awarded the Getty Images Instagram Grant.

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…I’ll be delivering a lecture How We See Prisons on Wednesday, November 8th, in the Kresge Auditorium, Bowdoin College at 7:15pm.

It’s free and open to the public.

College Guild has organised the event.

College Guild is a non-profit org that provides education to prisoners across America through non-traditional correspondence courses. It pairs volunteers on the outside with prisoners on the inside in a one-to-one mail correspondence that provides feedback to prisoners on their work on established coursework units. It’s all-volunteer while maintaining consistent standards. It by the people, for the people.

College Guild is currently partnered with Bates College and Bowdoin College and has more than 50 volunteer-readers on campus. The pedagogy is such that its limit is primarily only the number of man hours available from folks on the outside. The pedagogy is such that people inside and out educate one another. Why am I talking about this though, when the teaser video below describes the benefits of the program in the prisoners’ own words?

 

 

 

 

 

 

This week, Mimi Plumb kindly let me write about her series What Is Remembered which shows the clearing of orchards and farms for subdivisions between 1972 and 1975, in her (then) hometown of Walnut Creek. She photographed the alienated kids who reminded her of her younger self. I first met Mimi in 2014. It feels like this article has been a long time coming. I had wrote about 500 words. I wish I had 500 pages.

I adore Mimi. I posted about her series Pictures From The Valley, when her images were used in an initiative to find farmworkers involved in California labor organizing, and then to secure their oral histories.

What Is Remembered is evocative stuff fusing memory, generational differences, consumerism, fear, innocence and our place in the world–that is all to say, our responsibility to the world.

 

 

To quote:

After a career teaching photography, only recently has Plumb returned to her archive. Nostalgia, partly, accounts for the current popularity of Plumb’s work. But, frankly, it is only now that people have the stomach for it. While her college instructors at the time loved the work, it was too unadorned and too uncomfortable for many others to appreciate.

“The raw dirt yards and treeless streets, model homes expanding exponentially, with imperceptible variation. A lot of it’s pretty dark and some of it is pessimistic.”

Plumb never felt comfortable among the cul-de-sacs and manicured yards. She rarely had the words for what she was experiencing … until she discovered photography in high school.

In 1971, the two lane road to the city became four lanes. Aged 17, Plumb left for San Francisco. The bland atmosphere of the suburbs stood in stark contrast, says Plumb, to the cultural and violent upheavals taking place across the country — the shooting of John F Kennedy, the ongoing threat of nuclear war, the civil rights movement, and the anti-war movement.

“Suburbia felt like something of a purgatory to me,” she explains. “It was intellectually hard; you couldn’t really talk about what was going on in the world.”

“I watched the rolling hills and valleys mushroom with tract homes,” says Plumb. “To me and my teenage friends, they were the blandest, saddest homes in the world.”

More: Photos of growing up in the Bay Area suburbs tell a story of innocence and disaffection

 

 

 

    

 

The love affair between street photographers and New York City is rich, lucid, sometimes sordid and, seemingly, unbreakable. Images shot on the fly on the streets of the Big Apple form a significant part of the canon of photographic history — think Helen Levitt’s photos of kids at play, Weegee’s crime scenes crowds, Bruce Davidson’s subway, Jill Freedman’s brilliantly observed moments, Louis Mendes’ fifty-years of street portraits, and Jamel Shabazz’s polychromatic pictures of hip-hop culture. Perhaps the patina of time leads us to romanticize these bygone eras? Perhaps the stand of time between us and the fashions, hairstyles, automobiles and shop-fronts of yesteryear makes looking just simple, uncomplicated fun? Either way, Carrie Boretz’s work is wonderful.

 

 

Between 1975 and 1994, Boretz traversed NYC. From Brooklyn to Midtown Manhattan, from Queens to the West Village, and from Harlem to Studio 54, Boretz sought out busy, public scenes that would turn viewers’ attention back toward the everyday wonder of everyday life.

Street: New York City — 70s, 80s, 90s is a book of 103 images from the New York boroughs. It’s an elegy to a time when the city was a bit rough and tumble.

“New York seems less interesting now and more sanitized,” says Boretz.

Carrie Boretz’s Street is published by PowerHouse Books.

Read and see more: These amazing street photos show 20 years of New York’s gritty glam era—through one woman’s eyes

 

 

       

 

 

CHICAGO FOR ABOLITION: A SUMMIT ON ORGANIZING AND STRATEGY, NOV. 8-12, 2017

Critical Resistance and Chicago For Abolition have organised a weekend of events to strengthen the movement against the Prison Industrial Complex. If your are in, or near Chicago, go!

“In this period of astonishing energy and public discussion about abolition,” says Critical Resistance, “we are excited to build with organizations and communities in Chicago that are fighting to address and eliminate the harms of the interlocking systems of policing, imprisonment, and surveillance—what we call the prison industrial complex.”

Through a weekend of events, workshops, and political dialogue, Critical Resistance and dozens of communities in Chicago are building stronger organizational relationships shared understanding of PIC abolition and the advancement of local and national efforts.

Chicago for Abolition Summit: November 8-12th, 2017

ALL EVENTS FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC

Wednesday, November 8

No Easy Victories: Fighting For Abolition

A conversation with Angela Y. Davis and Ruthie Wilson Gilmore, moderated by Beth Richie. (Registration closed and all seats are currently full. CR will make an announcement by email if more seats become available.)

Thursday, November 9

Abolition and Rethinking Education

Organizing to get police out of your school? Working on responses to harm in the classroom and staffroom that do not involve criminalization? Want a curriculum that creates possibilities to imagine and build a world without prisons and borders? Building to protect students and families from immigration enforcement (ICE)? Come to this panel discussion with K-12 educators, youth advocates and abolitionist organizers that will deepen learning between and across these constituencies and identify needed tools and resources.

Featuring:
Ayanna Banks Harris – Chicago Math Teacher and Dean of Instruction, Love & Protect
Beatriz Beckford – MomsRising
Cyriac Mathew – Uplift Community High School
Muhammad Sankari – Arab American Action Network
Moderator: Charity Tolliver, Black on Both Sides/BYP 100

Location: First Defense Legal Aid, 601 S. California Ave, Chicago, IL 61612


Date: Thursday Nov. 9


Time: 6:30-8:30 PM



Friday, November 10

Beyond One Chicago: Resisting the Divisions of the Prison Industrial Complex

An event on resisting criminalization, gang databases, and policing. We will feature the launch of a critical new report on the use of gang databases in Chicago. Community organizers will discuss past efforts to fight policing and criminalization. Together we will build abolitionist visions of expansive sanctuary in Chicago.

Featuring: BYP 100, CR, OCAD, and Mijente.


Location: University of Illinois at Chicago. Student Services Building (1200 W Harrison St., Chicago, IL 60607) Conference Rooms B & C


Date: Friday Nov. 10


Time: Doors open at 6pm, start at 6:30

Saturday, November 11

Fight To Win: Shrinking Prisons and Jails / Strengthening Communities

An event on organizing against imprisonment and strategies to strengthen our fight for a world without cages. We will explore and discuss successful campaigns around stopping jail construction, ending money bail, advocating for prison closure, and for supporting prisoner-led struggles.

This event is hosted by Chicago Community Bond Fund, Critical Resistance, Free Write Arts & Literacy, Nehemiah Trinity Rising, The Next Movement.

 


Facebook event page.

Location: Trinity United Church of Christ (400 95th St, Chicago, IL 60628)


Date: Saturday Nov. 11


Time: 12pm-2pm

Chicago for Abolition Summit: November 8-12th, 2017

Poster design by Monica Trinidad

 

 

 

Trump rages on about a broken America. America is raging about a broken Trump. Among the many memes and earworms the Whinger-In-Chief has provided, “American Carnage” is the one that sticks, for me. As long as Trump can convince his base that other people, other milieus and other communities are in carnage, his base will happily cede logic and allow the White House to enact its politics of division. As soon as Trump bellowed “American carnage” during his inauguration speech, the foreboding inevitability of a belligerent, smarting, testy, bickering presidency came to bear. Do images of social blight carry a different message under a fascistic executive?

Of his series Slow Blink, Open Mouth, Jordan Baumgarten says, With apparent lawlessness, chaos is inevitable. The world comes alive with bits of magic, bits of darkness, and the inability to discern which is which. In this world, private moments are public, animals and humans roam free, fueled by id, and always, somewhere, there is a fire burning.

 

While Slow Blink, Open Mouth is difficult for its content alone, it is also difficult because it might provide the ammunition for both sides of the political battle of rhetoric, fought from distance, over the health and feasibility of the nation. In We Look At The Same Photos, We See Different Things, published on Vantage, I investigate the difficulty inherent to images, in the Trump era, of addiction and social stress.

To quote:

When I view these images I think of failed manufacturing, job loss, modern alienation, big pharma pushing painkillers, crimes of need, and cycles of profit and predation that cannot, will not, be broken by the will power of addicts alone. I see the result of decades of inadequate public education, mental and medical health care and viable addiction treatment. I see the legacy of the failed War On Drugs, mass incarceration, and policy and policing that has criminalised poverty. I see the cracks in society through which individuals have fallen and I know the cracks used to be smaller, and fewer and farther between.

I do not discount, however, the fact that others may see a society that’s lost its way; a society that fell from grace decades ago and needs a short, sharp reset. I know viewers might reason they have nothing in common with Baumgarten’s subject(s) and are moved to do nothing but judge. Trump has fueled the aggressive judgement of others. Perversely, though he hasn’t done this by avoiding the topics of poverty and addiction. Instead, he’s pointed (from distance) to problems in inner-city America (Chicago being his preferred bogeyman) and yelled about carnage, wastelands and the opioid epidemic. Trump is correct in identifying the opioid epidemic as specific to our times, but he’s more invested in stoking dangerous rhetoric about *dangerous* cities than he is listening to, or implementing, nuanced policy and social care solutions.

 

 

Read and see more: We Look At The Same Photos, We See Different Things

Slow Blink Open Mouth will be published as a book by GOST. Please consider buying a print from the series to help support the production costs.

Follow Jordan Baumgarten on Tumblr and Instagram.

 

 

 

There are countless numbers to keep youth out of custodial settings, not least the threat of waste and violence jail brings.

In New York, one group is using art, photo and video as an alternative to jail. The Young New Yorkers intervenes at the juvenile court, and with sanction of the judge, allows children who are convicted of non-violent misdemeanours (turnstile jumping, graffiti, public disturbance) to embark on 3-day or 8-week art programs instead of heading to jail for 3 months or taking on a long community service stint.

The Young New Yorkers (YNY) uses art to help children imagine different lives for themselves, to conjure new possibilities for their neighbourhoods and to interrogate what community justice is and might be.

Yesterday, YNY kicked off its #ArtNotJail campaign to raise funds for 2018’s programs.

“We are raising $10,000 to cover the costs of the next 6-months of public art projects,” writes YNY on its IndieGoGo crowdfunding page. “The next generation of Young New Yorkers will then use art to advocate for themselves, and advocate for a transformed criminal justice system.”

This humanising program listens to children, it opens up new potential and I’m a huge fan. Please consider giving to The Young New Yorkers.

 

Follow YNY on Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, Twitter and Vimeo.

 

 

Narratives of abuse leak steadily from our prison systems. All too often, though, the true extent and horror of violence and corruption within remains shrouded or unspoken. And certainly unseen. Frequently, the narratives of abuse are singular incidents deemed extraordinary enough to warrant investigation and perhaps some local news coverage. Frequently, single incidents are described in the media as originating, and limited to, a single institution. The flow of information of, and investigation into, wrongdoing in Florida’s youth prison system is, by comparison, an overwhelming flood of longstanding, coordinated manipulation and orchestrated abuse across multiple facilities.

Recently, The Miami Herald published a years-long investigation into into Florida’s juvenile justice system. Following the death of 17-year-old Elord Revolte, the Herald sourced documents, interviews and surveillance videos that reveal “a disturbing pattern of beatings doled out or ordered by officers”.

The investigation is aptly, and devastatingly, named Fight Club. It’s a sprawling deep-dive not only into the most egregious incidents of scandal but also into the deaths of 12 children in the system since 2000. This is difficult but important reporting.

Officers staged fights for entertainment, for gambling and to exert control. Officers relied on youths deemed stronger to enforce violent hierarchy and to mete out vicious beatings.

“Youthful enforcers are rewarded with sweet pastries from the employee vending machines, a phenomenon known as honey-bunning,” explains the Herald. “Beatings bought for the price of a pastry.”

The Miami Herald found that many of the staff were rejects from the adult prison system, previously fired due to an array of disqualifying behaviours.

“Florida’s youth corrections programs are sprinkled with hundreds of staffers who were jettisoned by the adult prison system or staffs at local jails but welcomed by institutions looking after incarcerated youths. Some had short-lived second-chance stints. Others remain on the job.”

Predators — both men and women — with violent histories were paid to look over society’s vulnerable children.

“Tommy Williams’ arrest for clobbering a severely disabled man he was paid to protect didn’t discourage his prospective employers at the Duval Youth Academy. They hired him,” writes the Herald. “Uriah T. Harris’ rap sheet featured a long string of arrests, including aggravated battery and child neglect. That didn’t deter his future bosses at the Avon Park Youth Academy. Both were hires that would prove regrettable.”

Some officers initiated sex with youthful detainees; they raped minors in their custody. All the while, staff built up a culture of see-nothing and say-nothing denial.

The online presentation of the reporting makes prominent use of acquired CCTV footage. Organised beating after organised beating. It’s shocking to watch. In one video, the youth are ordered to beat another once he enters the room. The staff member then kills the lights to make their ambush harder to deflect.

I’ve pulled some screencaps from the Herald’s designated webpage for the investigation. The sadistic manipulation of children as evidenced in weeks of footage the Herald sifted cannot be boiled down to any number of frames but here, at least, the inset captions give you an idea of the sick practices and abuse carried out by staff and by boys under the coercion of staff.

As revelatory as these CCTV videos are (as compared to the usual opaqueness from which prisons benefit) they are not a total indictment in every circumstance. While the videos paint a brutal picture of routine violence they did not, have not, and will not in every circumstance identify the perpetrator. Such was the case in the death of Elord Revolte. He was beaten by over a dozen prisoners and unprotected by staff at the Miami Dade Juvenile Correctional Center. Five staff were fired, but no prosecution was made. (Read the 66-page DJJ report here.)

The investigation, Fight Club, is incredibly difficult viewing and reading but it is a benchmark of prison reporting. Rarely is abuse from inside detailed so thoroughly and viscerally. Of the many profoundly sad aspects of the reporting are the interviews with parents of children killed or severely injured. No matter what your child has done, you do not expect the state to send him or her home in a body bag.

View Fight Club. It is beyond shocking but it is also imperative journalism.

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