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In the final two days of fundraising, Echoes Of Incarceration is a long term project that helps children of incarcerated parents to make documentary films about the effects of America’s prison industrial complex — on society, on us, on families, on communities, and mostly on children without one or both parents behind bars.
There are an estimated 2.7 million children in America with one or both parents in prison or jail. Mass incarceration has created fundamental weaknesses in society. Mass incarceration as easily impacts individuals as it does vulnerable groups (the poor, the under-educated, the discriminated against) and often we perceive the effects as lasting only years, or being contained within the experience of one identified moment, lifetime or geographical space. We neglect to recognise that mass incarceration is piling pressures on top of problems on top of expectations on top of America’s young, developing citizens.
We live in a society in which vast numbers of youth must negotiate formative years without parental support. The prison industrial complex has burdened our youth with an almost inconceivable set of problems that they did not ask for, and they do not deserve.
Echoes Of Incarceration brings much needed scrutiny to the issue of mass incarceration and crucially it does it through the lens of the innocent people who have inherited a broken, brutalising system we made. Their latest productions deal specifically with the Bill of Rights of Children with Incarcerated Parents.
Please, fund this important project.
Below is a 2009 production made by Echoes Of Incarceration
Thor. © Clarke Galusha
“It’s the best show of portraits I’ve seen in Portland in a long time,” said Blake Andrews when he told me he was interviewing Clarke Galusha whose tintype portraits of children are on display at Newspace Center for Photography in Portland through November.
“For many of the subjects in this project, this might have been the first picture-taking experience where they were not asked to smile,” says Galusha who only learned to make tintypes a few months ago!
Madrid Prison © Gunnar Knechtel
Tree lined corridors and green lawns; swimming pools and squash courts; but this is not suburbia, this is Madrid VI prison. I know very little about the Spain’s prison system. In fact, the only time it has featured on Prison Photography was as it related to Mathieu Pernot ‘s photographs of family screaming over the walls of a Barcelona jail. It would be speculation to wonder if Gunnar Knechtel’s series Madrid (2004) depicts the world into which Pernot’s subjects howled. Instead I, and we, shall reply upon the information provided by COLORS Magazine Issue 50:
“Madrid VI prison (opened 1998) is staffed not by guards but by funcionarios, unarmed civilian servants with college degrees. It’s part of a prison culture that according to one funcionario aims to foster “a certain level of mutual respect and trust” between inmates and staff.”
To American eyes, Knechtel ‘s photography may appear to describe something other than a prison. The human-scale of the design contrasts the dominant modes of American incarceration, especially the dehumanizing Supermax.
Where it makes no effect on function, recently-constructed Spanish prison design includes manipulation of colour, sight-lines and landscaping to lessen the psychological impact of these confined spaces. But more than that, Spanish prisons – as depicted here by Knechtel – provide health and recreational facilities to nurture humanity. No more is this nurturing in evidence than in the prisons’ policies toward family and reproduction.
“A [prison reform] law – the new Spanish parliament’s first piece of legislation – was passed in 1979. It guaranteed prisoners all their civil rights, withholding only their freedom of movement.” Other improvements include monthly family visits in private rooms, as well as conjugal visits with spouses, partners, or even prostitutes is specially designated bedrooms. In the mixed prisons, male and female inmates are allowed to begin relationships and if the prison director agrees can meet and use private rooms as an official couple. Homosexual relationships are also permitted.”
Since 1979, Spain has built 57 prisons that adhere to these standards; each one at an average cost of $42 million. The focus on conditions came about following the demise of Franco‘s Fascist regime (Franco died in 1975, but a new constitution was not passed into law until 1978.) During the dictatorship, many politicians were held in Spanish prisons overseen by Franco’s notorious military police. When these men and women returned to the legislature, prison reform was a top priority.
Madrid Prison © Gunnar Knechtel
Many U.S. prisons with stable populations allow for conjugal visits (“trailer visits”) as an earned privilege for prisoners. For prisoners fortunate enough to have the option, trailer visits provide invaluable human contact; a type of contact that is never forthcoming in dominant prison culture. And this applies to all types of contact, from time with a sexual partner to a weekend with the extended family. Trailers in U.S. prisons are beyond the body of the prison proper, often in a self-contained secure spaces; architectural afterthoughts. By contrast, in Spain the philosophy of the family has shaped the spatial fabric of many prisons.
In terms of child-rearing, there are a handful of pioneer facilities in the U.S. Three of these facilities have been documented by three conscientious female photographers – Cheryl Hanna Truscott at the Residential Parenting Program, at Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW); Angela Shoemaker at Prison Nursery at Ohio Reformatory for Women, Marysville, Ohio; and Neelakshi Vidyalankara at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in Westchester County, the largest maximum security women’s prison in New York state.
In the U.S., at those rare Mother Units, law allows mothers to keep their newborn babies with them until 18-24 months. In Spain, the age is 3 years. From the same issue of COLORS, a mother describes her dilemma:
“My daughter turns three in a couple of months and it’s difficult for me to be separated from her. She’s been with me since she’s been a baby but I can already see that she needs something different. When they take her on excursions to the zoo or to the mountains, I see that she’s really happy. She knows that she has to ask permission for everything; she knows that there are people in charge. She says, “Mommy, tell the lady to open the patio door”, and she knows that she has to respect those in charge.”
No one would want to argue a child should remain with its parent in a state of suspended freedom indefinitely, but discussion about the legal age limit to which they remain together is valuable.
Madrid Prison © Gunnar Knechtel
Whether it two years or three years, the eventual separation of mother and child, or mother and father from child can only be a gut-wrenching unbearable event. Having said that, any parent would surely bear such pain in return for the pleasure of bonding with their children over even the shortest time-span.
Social psychology has shown the most significant bonds and rapid cognitive development occurs in the baby’s earliest months and years. As such, the benefit to mother and child cannot be denied.
The U.S. prison system does not provide the type of Family Unit deicted by Knechtel in which incarcerated parents can (if approved) raise a child jointly. Spain has actualised one of the most progressive penological practices by including the father within a more complex understanding of family. The needs of children are often the same as the needs of the parent.
Knechtel’s photographs are by no means extraordinary, but as with most prison photography projects, it’s the debate about the unseen world they give rise to, that defines their worth. The ambiguity of prison architecture punctuated by soft furnishings and children’s toys fairly reflects the conflicted reality for parents behind bars.
Gunnar Knechtel’s website:
Madrid Prison © Gunnar Knechtel
THE CONTINUING BLOGGING COLLABORATION
Thanks oncemore to Aline Smithson who transcribed. This is our second collaboration done in the interets of shared learning and proof that the photo-blogging community is alive, strong and charitable. Part one: A Visit to ER: Thoughts on Torture, Invisible [War] Crimes and X-Ray Imaging as Evidence. Below is a photograph of Aline’s feet from her portfolio Self-portraits.
My post, Staring at Death, Photographing Haiti got a lot of attention. It was a simple format – an extensive collection of links to online photography coverage of Haiti. It was posted a week after the earthquake and very soon after was out of date.
Well, add Lynsey Addario to that list.
Even Orphanages Spawn Orphans in Haiti is the type of approach and reflexivity I admire in journalism. It is a great salve to the overly-anxious who worry that photojournalism has lost it’s soul.
Of course, I have a few buddies who’d insist that Haitian voices be heard also, so I don’t want to suggest that PJ audio interviews are the crowning point of crisis reporting – they obviously aren’t but they are a necessary component.
To hear the photojournalist’s voice and responses to their subject reminds us that photographers are not camera-wielding automatons operating in vacuums.
Photographer Matt Writtle traveled to Cambodia with the charity EveryChild and gained unique access to some of the country’s provincial prisons and children incarcerated there.
Writtle narrates a slideshow and explains the unknown prospects for the boys. Of the nine youths sharing a cell, six are in for serious crimes and three for petty theft.
The common factor among the group is that none have been given legal representation and none of them are aware of their rights.
One boy, Sam Nang, didn’t know whether his brothers or sisters would be able to visit him, but given the requirements to bribe prison officers to secure a visit it was unlikely. Sam Nang and his siblings have no definable income.
Cambodia has no juvenile justice system, so youths are processed as adults. I have voiced concern about the safety of adolescents in South East Asian prisons before, specifically in the Philippines (see end of article).
Ingar Krauss traveled to places in the former Soviet Union, and made portraits of children the same ages, but living in state-run orphanages, juvenile prisons and camps. Many of these kids are not criminals but these “childhood institutions” are the only places society can find for them. (Jim Casper, LensCulture)
A couple of stand-out quotes from Krauss (also from LensCulture):
I recognized that I am especially interested in those children who already have a biography — orphans or criminal children. They have already a story to tell. They seem to be responsible in a way which is not childlike.
Looking at those pictures they seem always to ask: Why me? And in fact this is usually the first question they are asking when I am choosing from 200 orphans in an orphanage, this one or these two. And all I can answer them is that I recognized them, that I feel I know them. Not personally, of course, because I don’t know their stories the moment I decide who I would like to photograph, but in a fundamental way I think I know them.
Obama’s decision to quash the release of Iraqi prison torture photographs has welled across the journo networks today. It began as a rumour and then confirmed by the Huffington Post, New York Times and other major news outlets.
Last month, I blogged about ACLUs legal victory and announcement of images release on May 28th. I told you to keep the date in mind as the images were sure to be a thwack on the retina – of course, not half as bad as some of the thwacks of twisted acts meted out by American rank and file under America military order.
I even went as far to say that Obama – with seeming little control – would possibly suffer at the fate of an early leak. Well, Obama’s done his u-turn and it looks like he might stop their release. He gets some support from Tomasky at the Guardian, but I can’t buy this argument. Obviously, Obama’s worried about the safety of his troops but the rest of us are worried about Cheney et al. getting off scott-free. The official line is that the Abu Ghraib abuses have been investigated fully, but in truth 25 low ranking officers were hung out to dry. There was no accountability further up the chain.
We should bear in mind that these are new images to the public and media, but not to politicians and internal investigators, and this is not the first time images have been suppressed and challenged.
The military’s mood was one of relative calm last month, with army investigators going on record that “these images are not as near as bad as Abu Ghraib”, but some are recalling long forgotten testimonies from 2004, namely by Seymour Hersh, here, here and here.
Hersh alleged that the children of female prisoners were sodomized in front of their mothers. These assertions were made on two occasions in 2004 – during a speech at the University of Chicago and at an ACLU conference.
There were audio files of these speeches online, but they do not seem to be operating. ACLU will have this on file nonetheless. And, in any case, Information Clearing House has a transcript of Hersh’s statements, from which I quote below:
Some of the worst things that happened that you don’t know about. OK? Videos. There are women there. Some of you may have read that they were passing letters out, communications out to their men. This is at [Abu Ghraib], which is about 30 miles from Baghdad — 30 kilometers, maybe, just 20 miles, I’m not sure whether it’s — anyway. The women were passing messages out saying please come and kill me because of what’s happened. And basically what happened is that those women who were arrested with young boys, children, in cases that have been recorded, the boys were sodomized, with the cameras rolling, and the worst above all of them is the soundtrack of the boys shrieking. That your government has, and they’re in total terror it’s going to come out. It’s impossible to say to yourself, how did we get there, who are we, who are these people that sent us there.
When I did My Lai, I was very troubled, like anybody in his right mind would be about what happened, and I ended up in something I wrote saying, in the end, I said, the people that did the killing were as much victims as the people they killed, because of the scars they had.
I can tell you some of the personal stories of some of the people who were in these units who witnessed this. I can also tell you written complaints were made to the highest officers. And so we’re dealing with an enormous, massive amount of criminal wrong-doing that was covered up at the highest command out there and higher. And we have to get to it, and we will. And we will, I mean, you know, there’s enough out there, they can’t.
And finally, if you thought you’d experienced the depravity of Abu Ghraib via the pictures – and if you thought you understood the extent to the crimes – you’d be wrong. This Guardian article, quoting Washington Post relays the testimony of a detainee witness to juvenile rape.
Detainee, Kasim Hilas, describes the rape of an Iraqi boy by a man in uniform, whose name has been blacked out of the statement, but who appears to be a translator working for the army.
“I saw [name blacked out] fucking a kid, his age would be about 15-18 years. The kid was hurting very bad and they covered all the doors with sheets. Then when I heard the screaming I climbed the door because on top it wasn’t covered and I saw [blacked out], who was wearing the military uniform putting his dick in the little kid’s ass,” Mr Hilas told military investigators. “I couldn’t see the face of the kid because his face wasn’t in front of the door. And the female soldier was taking pictures.”
It is not clear from the testimony whether the rapist described by Mr Hilas was working for a private contractor or was a US soldier. A private contractor was arrested after the Taguba investigation was completed, but was freed when it was discovered the army had no jurisdiction over him under military or Iraqi law.
IF THE IMAGES PEGGED FOR RELEASE ON THE 28TH ARE TO STIR UP FRESH INQUIRY INTO SEXUAL ABUSE OF JUVENILES THEN OBAMA HAS A SERIOUS PROBLEM.
Author’s Note: I am taking my lead from Michael Tomasky for this blog post tying Obama’s call for a block on the release of images to the worst case scenario (sexual torture). Bear in mind that the buzz has been over 44 images – why, I don’t know – but over 2,000 were/are set to be released on May 28th. Also bear in mind that the images are said to be predominantly from facilities other than Abu Ghraib. There are a lot of unknowns in this matter. Nevertheless, I am sure of two things: 1) there is more visual evidence of abuse in existence and 2) Obama is obstructing the release of the latest evidence. Time will tell how these two variables cross or diverge.
Patricia Aridjis spent over seven years on The Black Hours Project. She documented incarcerated women in the Mexican penitentiaries of Santa Martha Acatitla, Tepepan, “Reclusorio Norte & Oriente” and Michoacan Prison in Mexico City.
It is not only the photographs that Aridjis uses to tell the women’s stories with familiarity and sensitivity. Aridjis also compiled a video archive and a correspondence archive; I urge you to listen, read and pause.
I contacted Patricia and she generously gave permission to publish works from The Black Hours. It gives me great pleasure to do so, as her motivation bear striking similarity to a core principle of Prison Photography; to present imagery that jolts viewers into reassessments about prisons and the lives and stories therein.
Aridjis has been described as one of the photojournalists most committed to social issues in Mexico. It has also been explained that this project was a point of revelation in her career; Aridjis [coming to] understand prisons as only reflections of outside society:
The female penitentiary is more than a place where society hide its errors and cleans its faults; inside there are hundreds of stories of abandonment, abuse and even love.
Exhibition Board, Nacho Lopez Hall, INAH National Photographic Library
Aridjis’ photographic philosophy is clear, “To Make Visible, the Invisible”. Mexico’s penal system exerts control over what can and can’t be seen mimicking the practices of parts of the American penal system.
To do this photo essay I thought about being for long hours inside some women’s prisons in Mexico City. I considered that that was the only way to capture the feelings that go around the cells and corridors of these places. Loneliness, lesbianism as a way of satisfying affective needs; self punishment and suicide attempts are like gaping wounds in the wrists that cry for help. Drugs to escape reality, maternity, solidarity. Life is limited by watching towers, guards, gates and schedules. The black hours. My commitment found its exact words when I took an inmate’s picture in her cell. She asked me to be photographed because that was to be her only way out of there.
Patricia Aridjis, Mexico 2004
Where is Jail?
“What would you do if I mugged you?” Natalia asked mischievously.
“You wouldn’t.” I answered. When Juan Carlos the inmate’s five-year old son over heard us he screamed, “Don’t do it mom! Don’t! Or you’ll end up in jail!”
“Jail does not exist.” she said after a brief silence.
“Where is jail?” I asked the boy who was inside his mother’s cell. “Outside, where the policemen are” he answered, pointing out to the window.
Talking with Natalia & Juan Carlos
Womens Prison, Tepepan, Mexico City, 2002.
To enter you have to walk through a long tunnel which leads to an almost completely feminine world, a world with no living colors, but beige and navy blue of the uniforms.
“I have been here seven years, four months and two weeks.” Exact, endless counting. Time that passes slowly and suddenly has turned into years ‘the black hours’.
Visitors are special; they are a breath of fresh air, freedom that comes from the outside.
Some children have been born inside and their eyes have not seen any other light than the one that passes though the bars, especially those that have no one to take care of them. If such is the case they remain under the custody of government institutions until the legal system says otherwise.
“Dulce, Why are you in for?”
“How many years did they give you?”
“Where did they get you?”
“At the airport.”
“How much did you have on you?”
“What is your cause?” [sic]
“My mom… Maria.”
These are the words that Dulce, a four year-old girl memorized. She was born during her mother’s conviction.
Objects, People, Spaces
Objects acquire a different value once they pass through the gate. Either because they are not allowed, such as scissors, perfumes in glass bottles, mirrors, or because they are outrageously expensive, like soap, deodorant or toilet paper. A phone card is like gold; the telephone is one of the few ways to keep in touch with the outside world. Family visits are another, but it is common that their partners or even their closest relatives abandon the inmates.
Beds have to be earned. Each cell houses about 15 inmates and is no more than 9 square meters. There are people sleeping on the floor and under the beds. As they leave, the ones that have been there longer get the beds. Other way to obtain this privilege is to buy it from someone who has been there more time.
Love in the Time of Jail
Silvia and Claudia met in prison, they fell in love. They have loved each other night and day … intimacy is a very public thing in prison. Silivia did her time, soon after the relationship began. She could not bear to be free without Claudia – the love of her life – and planned a simulated burglary. She asked a friend to press charges so that she could be in prison again, and together again with Claudia.
In 2006, Aridjis obtained the sponsorship of Revelaa Spanish organization which supports social justice photography. In 2002, she received a Grant for the Encouragement of Cultural Projects from FONCA (National Fund for Culture and Arts). That same year she won 1st place in the Anthropological Photography Contest awarded by the National School of History and Anthropology. In 2001, she received 1st place in the 5th Biennale of photojournalism. In 1994, Aridjis obtained a Grant for Young Creators (FONCA). She has been part of over sixty group & solo exhibitions.
Aridjis has recently been praised for her project The Sickness Behind Every Flower, which examines the use and toxic side effects of pesticides in agriculture.