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In October, I posted an image of Orleans Parish Prison inmates guarded on a New Orleans Bridge following a problematic evacuation. It was within a meandering article charting a chain of discoveries beginning with Arnold Genthe and ending with Pay-As-You-Stay jails in Los Angeles.

My conclusion then remains the same now: Katrina dealt with the poor in the same way a American society and markets have for the past 30 years; it picked them up, took them wherever it was heading on its disastrous path and spewed them out the back with nothing … and likely closer to death.

O.P.P. Inmates guarded on New Orleans overpass following Hurricane Katrina

O.P.P. Inmates guarded on New Orleans overpass following Hurricane Katrina. Credit: David A. Phillip/AP

In February, an assistant producer working on David Simon’s new project Treme got in touch with me to source the above image. (So, expect some Orleans Parish Prison related plot line!)

In response, I spent hours trying to hunt down my original source. FAIL. I found other images like it belonging to David A Phillip/A.P. and so, it is he I credit. I am 99% certain.

I have talked before about prisoners as waste, and this image is a convergence on that thought. Both people and trash have been herded into their corner; trash checked by freeway wall and current, people by armed guard.

This image bristled for some time during which I read reports on rivers full of trash and Charles Moore’s TEDtalk about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Then, add hero David Simon telling Bill Moyers that the reason America has never solved the chronic poverty in cities because America’s economy (no longer manufacturing based) does not need 10-15% of it’s population and labour pool. America has turned people into excess.

It begins to get depressing and heavy.

© Megan Martin 2009

© Megan Martin 2009

Add to this the fact I f*#kin’ hate those stupid-pearlescent-pearly-plastic-pearls-destined-to-choke-a-fish and it was all starting to get back to a dirty, sad, wasted and wasteful place.


I’ve never been to New Orleans’ Mardi Gras. Large celebrations unnerve me and the party – as legendary as it is – remains on my “to avoid list”.

I searched for the image that had bedded like sediment at the foot of my brain stem. Any trash image of the Mardi Gras aftermath was to serve the purpose, but when Flickr presented Megan Martin’s photo it was like string of predetermined conscience came home to fester.

The compositional mirror of these two images just polished my obsession with the unsustainability of most things. Processes have products and by-products. By-products are shipped to Asia to pollute its children or trampled into our unsustainable soils.

Louisiana has the largest number of prisoners per capita in the United States. Fiscally, Louisiana prisons must be feeling the pinch as much as any other state?

It appears a society’s self-made problems – when they  are big – won’t even be washed away by a 100year storm. Let’s stop filling prisons like we fill landfill. Prisoners and their rights cannot be ignored. Prisons are unsustainable.

For a full account of the disastrous evacuation of New Orleans prisoners during Katrina watch Prisoners of Katrina by the BBC.

See Megan Martin’s photos here.


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