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I can’t go to this but everyone in the Bay Area should.

Fighting Mass Incarceration: Strategies for Transformation
277 Cory Hall (off Hearst Ave) UC Berkeley
April 12, 2016

Discussion led by James Kilgore


With the sudden trendiness of opposing mass incarceration, Dr. James Kilgore will critically examine the idea that bipartisan unity and legislative change hold the key to transforming the criminal justice system. Dr. Kilgore will outline how his book, Understanding Mass Incarceration: A People’s Guide to the Key Civil Rights Struggle of our Time, and what it aims to achieve as well as discuss the potentials/pitfalls of the present moment in the struggle to end mass incarceration.

Kilgore argues that the key to this issue is to build a large social movement led by those who have been critically impacted by mass incarceration. It is a movement that makes alliances with those fighting other key struggles of our time (climate justice, gender justice, economic justice, etc.) and creates a collective alternative.


Topics will range from building out from the New Jim Crow analysis in relation to race, class and gender, examining political processes like reparations and Truth and Reconciliation Commissions as processes for transforming the criminal legal system and how we collectively imagine alternatives while fighting for important reforms.


Dr. James Kilgore is an activist, educator, and writer based at the University of Illinois. His most recent book is Understanding Mass Incarceration: A People’s Guide to the Key Civil Rights Struggle of Our Time. He is also the author of three novels, all which he drafted during his six and a half years in federal and state prisons in California.


277 Cory Hall (off Hearst Ave) UC Berkeley

Tuesday, April 12, 2016. 3:30pm-5:00pm


For its seventh and final stop, Prison Obscura will be on show at Newspace Center for Photography in Portland, Oregon from April 1 to May 28.

(Check out official Prison Obscura website and the PP “Prison Obscura” tag for the background and journeying of the exhibition.)

I’ll be at Newspace for the opening next Friday nightApril 1, 6–8pm. I’ll be installing Wednesday and Thursday so stop by and say hello.

Also, on the Saturday afternoon I’m moderating a panel titled Can Images Counter Mass Incarceration? with some of my favourite artists and thinkers. Here’s the Facebook event page and see bolded events’ details below.


No country incarcerates a higher percentage of its population than the United States. More than 2.2 million people are currently locked up in the U.S.—a number that has more than quadrupled since 1980. But sadly, the lives lived behind bars are all too often invisible to those on the outside. Prison Obscura sheds light on such experiences and the prison-industrial complex as a whole by showcasing rarely seen surveillance, evidentiary, and prisoner-made photographs. The exhibition encourages visitors to ask why tax-paying, prison-funding citizens rarely get the chance to see such images, and what roles such pictures play for those within the system.


Alyse Emdur’s prison visiting room portraits from across the nation and Robert Gumpert’s recorded audio stories from within the San Francisco jail system provide an opportunity to see, read, and listen to subjects in the contexts of their incarceration. Juvenile and adult prisoners in different workshops led by Steve Davis, Mark Strandquist, and Kristen S. Wilkins perform for the camera, reflect on their past, describe their memories, and self-represent through photographs. The exhibition moves between these intimate portrayals of life within the prison system to more expansive views of legal and spatial surveillance in Josh Begley’s manipulation of Google Maps’ API code and Paul Rucker’s animated video. Prison Obscura builds the case that Americans must come face-to-face with these images to grasp the proliferation of the U.S. prison system and to connect with those it confines.

Prison Obscura is made possible with the support of the John B. Hurford ‘60 Center for the Arts and Humanities and Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery at Haverford College, Haverford, PA.


In conjunction with the exhibition, Newspace is hosting a series of events related to the prison industrial complex and the role images play in exposing the structures of the U.S. criminal justice system.

OFFSITE Panel discussion: Can Images Counter Mass Incarceration? Saturday April 2, 2-4pm: Panelists Lorenzo Triburgo, Sarah-Jasmine Calvetti and Barry Sanders. Moderated by me. OFFSITE Location: Native American Student and Community Center, Portland State University (710 SW Jackson St). Sponsored by Portland State University Camera Arts Society.

Discussion: Re-Envisioning Justice: What Is Between Reform and Abolition of the Criminal Justice System?: Sunday, April 24, 4-6pm. At Newspace (1632 SE 10th Ave.)

Community Discussion: The Ethics of Photography: Thursday, May 12, 6:30-8pm, organized in collaboration with the Oregon Jewish Museum. At Newspace (1632 SE 10th Ave.)

All public programs are free, open to the public. Please note event location.


Expanding Photography: Discovering the Stories Behind Your Work: May 9 – May 23, 6:30 -9:30 pm | Instructor: Gregory Parra.

Education Lecture Series: The Screen Politics of Public Projections: May 17, 7:00 – 8:30pm | Instructor: Dr. Abigail Susik.

Build Your Own Pinhole Camera: June 5, 12:00-4:00pm | Instructor: Pete Gomena.


Newspace Center for Photography, 1632 SE 10th Ave, Portland, OR 97214

Mon–Thurs 10am-9:30pm; Fri–Sun 10am-6pm

Facebook | Instagram | Tumblr | Twitter | Vine

For press inquiries, contact Newspace Curator Yaelle S. Amir at or 503.963.1935.

Marking Time

A few months ago, I shared an announcement for the ‘Marking Time’ Prison Arts and Activism Conference, organised by the Institute for Research on Women (IRW) at Rutgers University.

Earlier this week, IRW announced the schedule for the October 8the -10th conference. On it are some inspiring artists whose work I’ve long admired from distance. Great line up.

I’m also pleased to mention that I’ll be moderating a panel, the proposal for which, for your informations, I have copy&pasted below.

Panel: Imagery and Prisons: Engaging and Persuading Audiences

We produce and consume an enormous quantity of images each day (350 million photos are uploaded daily to Facebook alone and the average person sees 5,000 advertisements per day). While images often reify stereotypes and social causality, many artists are creating and distributing photographs or disrupting dominant visual culture in hopes of supporting or instigating prison activism and reform. By looking at three practitioners with distinct approaches, audiences and strategies, this panel will explore the power, limitations, and corresponding ethics of visual activism. What images do citizens have access to? Who controls cliche and motif? What new images of prisons and prisoners need to be made? How can collaborative modes of producing and understanding images be catalysts for collective action? How can photography get past its role as mere documentation of prisons to help create visions for alternatives to incarceration?

Across New York City, Lorenzo Steele Jr. exhibits photographs he made during his work as a correctional officer deep in Rikers Island. At church groups, in parking lots, in schools, and during summer community days, Steele brings graphic imagery directly to multiple generations within the catchment area of Rikers. Steele’s presentations are accompanied by a number of workshops on conflict reconciliation, criminal justice and community.

Gregory Sale has produced longterm large scale projects that with significant institutional support have managed to bring together many disparate constituencies orbiting the criminal justice world. Sale’s “It’s Not All Black & White” made a conscious effort to wrestle the visual motifs and cliche of crime (striped jumpsuits, pink underwear and even brown skin) that Arizona’s infamous Sheriff Joe Arpaio has manipulated for his own political advantage.

Mark Strandquist works with communities to create photographs requested by prisoners (“If you could have a window in your cell, what place from your past would it look out to?”). After sending images to the corresponding prisoners, the photographs are exhibited and expanded upon through extensive public programing that brings students, policy makers, former prisoners, and many others together to engage with the causes, effects, and alternatives to mass incarceration.

Moderator, Pete Brook will ask the panelists which approaches have worked and which have not. What presentations of material have engaged and persuaded audiences? What different expectations and needs do audiences have which we as artists and activists must consider?


Gregory Sale is multidisciplinary, socially-engaged artist, whose work investigates issues of incarceration, citizenship, visual culture and emotional territories. In 2011, Sale orchestrated It’s Not All Black & White, a three-month residency exhibition at ASU Art Museum in Tempe, AZ. 52 programmed events brought together a wide array of constituencies including incarcerated persons, their families, parolees, ex-convicts, correctional officers, elected officials, government employees, members of the community, media representatives, artists, and researchers. It considered the cultural, social and personal issues at stake in the day-to-day workings of the criminal justice system in Arizona. Sale’s most recent project, Sleepover grapples with the challenges of individuals reentering society after periods of incarceration.

Sale is the recipient of a Creative Capital Grant in Emerging Fields (2013) and an Art Matters Grant (2014) . In summer 2012, as a resident artist at Yaddo in Saratoga Springs, NY, and at VCCA in Amherst, VA, Sale’s work has appeared in museums nationwide including the Ackland Art Museum, UNC-Chapel Hill and the Cheekwood Museum of Art, Nashville. Sale is Assistant Professor of Intermedia and Public Practice at Arizona State University in Tempe, AZ. Before that he served as the Visual Arts Director for Arizona Commission on the Arts, the Curator of Education at ASU Art Museum, and as a public art project manager for the Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture.

Lorenzo Steele Jr. is a former New York City Correction Officer. He worked for 12 years at Rikers Island, considered by some as the most violent adolescent prison America.

In 2001, Steele founded Future Leaders, a non profit youth that provides workshops, training, education and consultation to children, parents and educators about incarceration and the criminal justice system. Steele has worked as a New York City Board of Education vendor and assisted organizations — such as The Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), United Federation of Teachers (UFT) and the Nassau/Suffolk (BOCES) school district — with workshops on conflict resolution, bullying and literacy. He has also worked with the Brooklyn District Attorneys office providing gang and prison awareness to at-risk youth. He has lectured at college across the New York area. Steele is the recipient of awards from Congressional, Senate, and State Assemblymen for services to the community and to children’s development.

Mark Strandquist is an artist, educator, and organizer. His projects facilitate interactions that incorporate viewers as direct participants and present alternative models for the civic and artistic ways in which we engage the world around us. Each interactive installation functions not as a culmination but as a starting point and catalyst for dialogue, exchange, and community action. While photography is often used, the visual aesthetics and technical mastery of the medium become secondary to the social process through which the images are created, and the social interactions that each exhibition produces.

The ongoing project Some Other Places We’ve Missed: Windows From Prison was awarded the 2014 Society for Photographic Educators’ National Conference Image Maker Award, a Photowings/Ashoka Foundation Insights Changemaker Award, and the VCU Art’s Dean’s Award by juror Lisa Frieman. Strandquist’s projects have been exhibited and presented in museums, film festivals, conferences, print and online magazines, and independent galleries. The project Write Home Soon was exhibited in the 2012-13 international showcase of Socially Engaged Art at the Art Museum of Americas, Washington, DC. The ongoing project, The People’s Library is part of the permanent collection at the Main Branch of the Richmond Public Library and was presented by Strandquist and Courtney Bowles at the 2013 Open Engagement Conference. Strandquist is an adjunct faculty member at the Corcoran College of Art, a teaching artist with the University of Richmond’s Partners in the Arts, a Professional Fellow at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and a Capital Fellow at Provisions Library.

G-LAW Michael Ta'Bon

Today, the Huffington Post published 31 Reasons Philadelphia Is The Most Underrated City in America. Having spent two weeks in Philly recently, I can’t argue with most points (veggie friendly baseball park, c’mon!?).

But I can go further. Allow me to add a 32nd reason. Philadelphia’s anti-prison artists and activists.

Case in point: G-LAW. G-LAW, or OG-LAW (God’s Love Always Wins/God’s Love AT Work) is the adopted name of Michael Ta’Bon, an artist and activist who’s message is peace, love and no more prisons.

For the month of February, G-LAW lived in a self-built cell-sized space on the streets of Philly. Lori Waselchuk and  I visited G-LAW on the first of the month to see how he was going with construction, buy a coffee and learn more about his project. These photos are from that day. I have not heard how the past four weeks have gone, but as with all of G-LAW’s public happenings, I am sure he’s raised a lot of eyebrows and a lot of discussions.

This isn’t the first time G-LAW has protested prison construction, poverty, inequality and hate. He has jogged 10 miles a day for seven days around Philadelphia with a 40-foot banner reading FIGHT HATE WITH LOVE; he has walked with a ball-and-chain from Selma to Montgomery; and this is, in fact, the third time he’s  spent the month of February on the Philly streets in his own prison cell. You can see coverage of the the first occasion in 2011 here and here. One year, he mounted the event in Atlanta.

G-LAW Michael Ta'Bon

G-LAW Michael Ta'Bon

G-LAW Michael Ta'Bon

 is one of G-LAW’s many tags lines. He means everyone. He means you. Taxpayers are suckers for stumping the bill to maintain abusive and broken prison systems. One side of his cell is emblazoned with the phrase.

The project as a whole is called The Un-Prison Cell. It’s “the only prison in America designed to keep you out,” laughed G-LAW. It sounds like progress on construction slowed in the days after I visited, due to vicious weather and troubles getting materials.

G-LAW was also away from the site on February 12th as he joined the monumental People’s Budget Hearing protest at the Pennsylvania capital building in Harrisburg (videoaudiophotos). The People’s Hearing was organised by DecarceratePA, one of the most effective and inspiring anti-prison activist groups in the nation. Don’t believe me? Listen to DecarceratePA member Sarah Morris debate PA Prisons Secretary John Wetzel and call him out on the misinformation peddled by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections to the state legislature justify proposed prison expansion.

It was through DecarceratePA that I learnt about G-LAW’s art — you can listen to him on their radio show.

Maintaining momentum against massive forces for grassroots movements is a constant effort. A large part of that is being relevant to people outside the choir, having press strategy and adopting visual strategy too. DecarceratePA’s 100-day #InsteadOfPrisons Instagram campaign was the first and only interesting anti-prison campaign use of Instagram I’ve seen. (I adopted the hashtag myself later to spread the words of PA prisoners who’s work was in Prison Obscura.) Also, look how incredible this visual statement is.

Philadelphia should be proud of its grassroots activism. Bravo. More.

Follow G-LAW. Follow DecarceratePA on Facebook and on Twitter and on Instagram.

Thanks to Lori for some images.

G-LAW Michael Ta'Bon


G-LAW Michael Ta'Bon

G-LAW Michael Ta'Bon

G-LAW Michael Ta'Bon

Scott Langley has orbited the protests, prison protocols and politics of execution for over ten years. Judged by sheer coverage, his activism with the camera is without equal.

Capital punishment is one of the major failings of the US criminal justice system – it also remains one of the most divisive. Prison Photography was grateful to pick Scott’s brain about America’s current death industry, the legal landscape and his personal involvement.


We agreed that it would be wise to focus on Scott’s coverage of Troy Davis’ stay of execution.

Troy Davis‘ case is currently the most high-profile death penalty case in America. It has become a focus for anti-death penalty activists not only because a man’s life is on the line, but also because so many doubts have been brought to bear on the original jury verdict. Through Davis’ case, society is realising that juries are fallible, eye-witness testimonies are unreliable, proceedings can be flawed and fatal errors have been made … continue to be made.

Prison Photography: What were you first, a photographer or an activist against the death penalty?

Scott Langley: I was first a photographer, working for my college newspaper and yearbook. I didn’t become active on the death penalty until a human rights class my senior year that challenged me to use photography as a tool to report on the death penalty.

PP: Your portfolio of images documenting executions, prisons, vigils, families and celebrities is the most comprehensive of any photographer currently working in the United States. Did you envisage your project would become so large, and important?

SL: I never thought it would get this far, cover so many facets, and continue for so long (over 10 years now). As I said, it started as a class project, but I quickly realized the importance of such historical documentation and the effect it could have on an important issue.

PP: This work is obviously borne of your political position, but you also work as a freelance photographer to earn a living. Are your conflicted or compromised by pressures of time and money?

SL: I am proud to say I am not compromised by pressures of time and money. I live a very non-traditional lifestyle, for the sole purpose of maintaining an emphasis on my political activism on a number of human rights issues. I do work for pay as a self employed photographer – picking up news assignments, weddings, and other photo jobs as they come up. But those take up minimal time. Of course working for pay “as it comes up” requires living a bit more simply than the average person. I run my car off of used vegetable oil. I grow much of my own food. I do all my shopping at thrift stores, yard sales, dumpsters. All these things greatly reduce the need for money, which in turn allows me to work on the death penalty photo project and my political action full time, and neither of those pays much, if anything.

PP: You are particularly well connected with the capital punishment abolitionist movements of Texas, Massachusetts and North Carolina. Describe those territories and the current legislative and cultural situations in those states.

SL: My work in North Carolina is the most in-depth and extensive. I was only there two years, but it was two years engrossed full-time in the death penalty debate. North Carolina obviously is a southern state. And it is the southern states that leads in executions and death sentencing. At the time I was there (2004-2006), North Carolina was the number two executing state, only behind Texas. And the death row was 6th largest in the United States.

But the momentum there has shifted. There hasn’t been an execution there in almost 3 years now. And more people have been found innocent on death row. And right now, as I sit here, NC is considering the Racial Justice Act, a bill that provides those on death row the ability to appeal their case due to race discrimination at the time of trial (which is a huge, huge problem in the south).

North Carolina has come close to legislatively putting a moratorium on executions. There is real hope of ending the death penalty in NC in the near future.

In Texas, where my work began, it is a whole other world. Texas executes by far the most people – more than most countries combined. There are some great organizations and activists in Texas, but there is little hopeful movement in the legislature to end or limit the death penalty. In fact, Governor Perry just oversaw his 200th execution. And to think, the media gave Bush a hard time about 152 executions back when he ran for president in 2000.

Massachusetts is in a whole different position. The Commonwealth ended the death penalty in the 1980s, and hasn’t had an execution since the 1940s. Capital punishment came close to reinstatement back in the late 1990s, but has since seen a decline in support in the Governor and legislative bodies. It will be a death penalty free state as far as I can see, although there is the real threat of federal capital prosecutions there.




PP: Explain precisely your opposition to the death penalty. Is it a religious, moral, political, ethical or philosophical stance?

SL: It started as ethical. I first learned about the death penalty through a human rights history class, where we also studied the holocaust, genocide, war… all those gruesome atrocities carried out by governments – even democratically elected governments. I learned right away the grave danger of giving the state the power to kill – to choose who lives and who dies. The class took me down many roads since then, and so my opposition covers all facets – religious, philosophical (arguments I love, but can never wrap my mind around on my own), moral, political… the whole gamut of reasons. It is now to the point where I just cannot fathom how anyone, for any reason, could justify the taking of a human life.

PP: Bill Richardson recently signed in a moratorium of the death penalty in New Mexico, joining 14 other states to ban the death penalty. How much of a victory is this?

SL: It is a huge victory. It made what happened in New Jersey the year before not just a random occurrence dependent on a liberal governor or a certain regional mentality, but part of a movement and a trend. It will cause waves of effect – and it has. Colorado, Montana, Maryland, Connecticut, North Carolina … they are all very close to drastically changing the way the death penalty will be used – or hopefully, not used.

PP: In banning the death penalty, Governor Richardson put aside his personal opinion (support) for the death penalty cited a lack of trust in the cogs of the criminal justice system to act as “the final arbiter when it comes to who lives and dies”. The death penalty is actually a procedure of criminal justice that affects a small minority of convicted criminals. What are your thoughts on the prison system as a whole.

SL: The whole prison system is a complete failure. We’ve got the majority of people locked up for harsh sentences for mere drug possession. We’ve got a system that has no policy or effort to rehabilitate. We’ve got a system that spits people back out into the exact same environments that put them in prison in the first place. And meanwhile, there is extreme racism, abuse and torture within the whole system and the walls of the prisons. Not to mention that the taxpayers are funding all of this. It is just maddening that we don’t have a better way of doing things. It is obvious that it is not working. We have a higher per capital imprisonment rate than any other country in the world, including China. Prison in the U.S., as it is, serves no positive function for the vast majority of those who go through it.

PP: Describe from personal experience the attitudes toward capital punishment in the US compared to other nations you’ve visited.

SL: During the summer of 2000, I spent six weeks backpacking through Western Europe, with camera gear in tow, to photograph sites connected with the death penalty issue in Europe’s history. This was the summer of the heated U.S. presidential race between Al Gore and George W. Bush. Because of the impending election and Bush’s history with state sanctioned killing, the Texas death penalty had become the forefront of much political conversation. When I met folks in Europe and mentioned that I was from Texas (born and raised), the first thing that always came out of their mouth was something about the death penalty. They just could not fathom how a nation, so “advanced” and “great” as the USA, could go about with a barbaric and failed practice of exterminating prisoners – at a rate of nearly 2 per week. It was a stigma that was held against me everywhere I went.

I acknowledge that not all Europeans are whole-heartedly anti-death penalty. There is ongoing talk about whether executions should resume, but it is a real minority view at this point.




PP: Your project is over 800 pictures deep and touches upon many stories of those affected by the death penalty, but here we have focused on the case of Troy Davis. You were present to document his most recent stay of execution. Give us your thoughts on the case.

SL: Troy Davis‘ case is particularly disturbing. People who support the death penalty are starting to ask questions about this case. Even a former Georgia official publically stepped up to question why there hasn’t been a hearing of the new evidence to prove Troy’s innocence. When you have 7 out of 9 trial witnesses saying they lied, and were even coerced into lying by the police, you have to stop and say there is a problem here. It just baffles (and depresses me) that the courts just won’t hear the new evidence. The system is so caught up in judicial process that there is no humanity whatsoever. But remember, it is human life we are talking about. Real people with real family. The courts need to hear this case, desperately, because it stands for so much that is wrong with our broken system. If we, as a country, fail with the Troy Davis case, we have failed justice, failed humanity and failed all good that could possibly come out of a system designed to right wrongs and keep society safe.

PP: It seems this activism will be with you for life. Is that a fair assumption?

SL: I hope that my activism remains with me for life. There is a great need for people to always be on call to step up and do the right thing. Sometimes that might be little things like challenging the status quo by collecting used grease to run one’s car, and sometimes it might mean crossing a line to risk arrest to stop a greater harm from being done.

PP: What are your hopes for, and activities in, the future?

SL: I hope for an end to the death penalty soon. I hope to always have opportunities to educate people – through photos, through words, and through actions – about these issues of injustice. I have projects in the works to expand the death penalty documentary project and am planning for a cross-country trip in the winter 2010 to make photos in a wider variety of states.

I will continue to follow the Troy Davis case, using my camera as a tool when the opportunity arises.


View all of Scott Langley’s work here. Scott has also spoken out against sites of incarceration used in America’s global war on enemies. He has presented at the University of North Carolina, partnered with the Innocence Project, worked with Amnesty International, North Dakota Human Rights Coalition, Unitarian Universalists Against the Death Penalty and many, many more. He has also recently started working with video.


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