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If you’re in New York this Thursday and can spare the time, please think about joining four photo practitioners and I for Everyday Incarceration – Visualizing the Legacy of Mass Incarceration, a panel discussion about images of prisons and the associated social issues. We’ll be tackling the core question: Who gets to tell the story of a locked up nation?


Zara Katz and the Department of Visual Journalism at the CUNY J-School have done a great job of putting together a panel with diverse perspectives and practices – one documentary storyteller using video; one photographer who’s eye on the issues stretches back decades; one lawyer using software code and images to engage audiences and empower prisoners; and one former correctional officer turned campaigner armed with his photos from the job. Check the bios below!


After the panel, we invite you to sit for a portrait and to tell us your experience with incarceration. The photos will appear on @EverydayIncarceration, a collaborative Instagram feed.


The panel takes place in Room 308 of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, at 219 W. 40th Street, NY 10018.

6:30-9:30pm on Thursday, May 14th.

The event is free but an RSVP is very appreciated. Do that at – or at the event page on the Facebook.



Lashonia Etheridge-Bay, a 39 year-old woman who was granted parole in 2011 after spending 18 years in prison. Bulisova’s series Time Zone follows Etheridge-Bay’s return to society. Photo: Gabriela Bulisova.

Gabriela Bulisova is a documentary photographer and multimedia artist based in Washington, D.C. Over the past five years, she focused her attention on underreported and overlooked stories regarding incarceration and reentry, especially the impact on families. Bulisova has received numerous recognitions and awards, including The National Press Photographers Association’s Short Grant and Open Society Institute’s Moving Walls 18. In 2005, she was awarded the degree of Master of Fine Arts in Photography and Digital Imaging from the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore. She teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in photojournalism at the Corcoran School of Arts and Design in Washington D.C. and is a member of Women Photojournalists of Washington.


Michael is 17 and has ADHD, Attention Deficit Hyper Activity Disorder. He is on Ritalin.  He is under house arrest and wears an electronic monitoring device. He was arrested for possession of a knife and violating probation.  He is living in a hotel room with the rest of his family, 7 people in total. San Jose, California 1999. Photo: Joseph Rodriguez.

Joseph Rodriguez was born and raised in Brooklyn. His four-decade photography career examines incarceration, gangs, police and reentry, as well as families, communities and cultures across the globe. After being incarcerated at Rikers Island as a minor in the late-60s, Rodriguez turned to photography as a guide in his life. In 1985 he graduated from the International Center of Photography in New York. He went on to work for Black Star photo agency, and has published work in multiple top-tier outlets including National Geographic and The New York Times Magazine. He has received numerous awards and grants including New York Foundation for the Arts, Open Society Institute, National Endowment for the Arts, to name a few. Rodriguez currently teaches at New York University and as a visiting artist at national and international universities.


Photo: Lorenzo Steele.

Lorenzo Steele Jr. is a former New York City Correction officer (1987-1999) who mostly worked in the juvenile units at Rikers Island. He was regularly the photographer at events and celebrations with his fellow officers. In 1996, Steele began bringing his camera to the prison to document his experience there. That included daily violence and abuse of inmates and correctional officers. The deep emotional and physiological impact of his experience at Rikers compelled Steele to start a visual arts education program where he shares his photographs and prison experience with middle school and high school students.


Image courtesy of Nikki Zeichner/Growing Up Through Pictures

Nikki Zeichner began exploring multimedia storytelling with the Museum of the American Prison, a project that she initiated in 2012 to offer mainstream audiences a way to understand personal and experiential details of incarceration in the U.S. Her interest in telling stories about incarceration grew out of her experiences working as a criminal defense attorney in New York City and regularly visiting with clients held in federal and state pretrial detention facilities in lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. Nikki recently completed a Master’s degree in Integrated Digital Media from NYU’s Engineering School and is spending 2015 in San Francisco designing civic tech tools for a small, post-bankrupt municipality in Northern California. She remains in regular contact with the incarcerated individuals she worked with creatively on museum projects.


Washington, DC – 2012. “Even though it was a split second decision that caused those women their lives, it was not just one decision. My life pretty much sprouted out of control as far as me being teen mother, high school drop out, unemployed, drug addicted, alone; I was just immersed in the life of crime,” says Lashawna Etheridge-Bey.

This blog post is long overdue. Gabriela Bulisova is a committed multimedia storyteller who, for the past few years, has shaped stories about post-prison lives and focusing often on the experiences of women re-entering society.

In the excellent Convictions (2012) — a video about Our Place, a D.C. non-profit assisting currently and formerly incarcerated women as they transition out of the criminal justice system — Bulisova notes that over 1 million U.S. women are under correctional supervision (prison, jail, probation or parole) and that the female prison population has ballooned by over 830% in the past 30 years. Yes, you read correctly; an eightfold increase in the number of women locked up since 1980. There are 200,000 women behind bars.

Bulisova’s latest piece Time Zone “portrays the story of Lashonia Etheridge-Bey, a 39-year-old resident of Washington, DC, who spent half of her life in prison for a double murder and was paroled in December 2011. It focuses on Lashonia’s personal transformation while in prison, her difficult yet highly successful reentry into society, and the conflicts that remain within herself and with family members,” says Bulisova.

You can view a gallery of stills from Time Zone here.

When she was 16, Etheridge-Bey shot two teenage girls dead. She spent 20 years in prisons and due to her self-discipline and model behaviour was granted parole at the first hearing.

What is interesting about Time Zone is that it doesn’t focus on the systematic problems of the prison industrial complex. Instead, it focuses on the details of Etheridge-Bey’s own story. By exploring family ties, Etheridge-Bey’s feelings of guilt (at one point, she asks, “Do I deserve to forgive myself?”) her support systems and her coping strategies, Bulisova weaves a tale full of complex issues and challenging questions.

I almost feel like Time Zone should be screened in prisons and jails as an example of how extremely difficult circumstances are surmountable. If an incarcerated person has the right discussions, strong resolve and faithful allies in dealing with the past and future then

Etheridge-Bey credits prison — or more specifically, the fact it extracted her from society and a tough life — as a turning point. Prison forced her to examine her life. She took the opportunity and is undoubtedly a success story.

To say that prison is “good” by any definition is difficult for people such as I who advocate for prison-reform. But, of course, prison is only good if an incarcerated individual develops their own skills to make the most of limited resources available. All the while, prisons should meet basic health and safety needs, which is not always the case.

Through tenacity and discipline, Etheridge-Bey propelled her self-improvement. She maintained strong relationships with her family (her daughter’s words in the video are impressive, realistic and hopeful); she accumulated college credit while she was inside; she has beaten the hurdles to employment and study that many post-release felons face.

Reentry can be very difficult. The stigma of incarceration can be very difficult. Not every former prisoner will be as successful as Etheridge-Bey. The question we must ask is how much do we want to invest in people who have made mistakes — sometimes terrible, life-costing mistakes? If people must be locked up, how can we think imaginatively about maximizing the opportunities for prisoners to find a new track?

If you share the notion that prisons should be about rehabilitation and not warehousing, then how far do we push those efforts? For example, with 85-90% of all incarcerated women having suffered a history of domestic and sexual abuse, where is the line between their responsibility and society’s responsibility to break them from entrenched cycles of victimhood? Do we expect women to “pull themselves up by the bootstraps, regardless of their situations? I hope not.

If we must incarcerate people, we should expect and demand a change for the better. We must demand that institutions are imaginative and reflexive enough to match prisoners’ efforts toward self improvement. And to nurture those efforts, instead of stymie them.

I applaud Etheridge-Bey’s efforts. Unfortunately, her great advances are not typical of incarcerated women in America.

I don’t think prisons are invested in recognising the skills and potentials of individuals. Access to meaningful programs and relevant pedagogy varies widely, state-to-state, so I must be careful not to over-generalise, but often, personal advancement is achieved in spite of the system and not because of it.

Clearly, the use of incarceration only as a last resort would go a long way to maximising resources for prisoners. Improved and robust education, easier family visitation procedures, smaller facilities, better mental-healthcare, and better nutrition to name a few factors, prisons can do more, much more, to assist prisoners — both men and women — to realise their full potential.

Sondheim Artscape Prize

Along side Larry Cook, Caitlin Cunningham, Nate Larson, Louie Palu and Dan Steinhilber, Gabriela Bulisova is currently shortlisted for the Sondheim Artscape Prize.

The six finalists for the Sondheim Artscape Prize have their artwork installed in Special Exhibition Gallery of the Walters Art Museum, 600 N Charles St, Baltimore. (June 29 – August 31). The award announcement and reception is this coming Saturday, July 13th, at 7pm.


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