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Reentry in Los Angeles

Darlene Escalante with her grandmother, Veronica, she is on a home visit that she earned at Walden House. Darlene talks about how both parents were in prison and affiliated with gangs. As young girl, she remembers going to Chino State Prison to visit her father. When her mother went to prison too, Darlene’s grandmother took her to make visits. “Both my grandmother and my mother were drug addicts. In 1989, my dad died after he changed his life, he was a nurse. He was gunned down and shot nine times. I want so much to change my life now, that’s why I came to Walden House. I don’t want to continue this horrible legacy that has existed in my family.” Los Angeles, 2008. From the series Re-entry.


A long time ago Joseph Rodriguez and I chatted. An edited version of the conversation just made the webs.

If you know Joe, you know he’s not short of words. We covered a lot, but given Mark Ellen Mark‘s recent passing, I wanted to highlight this anecdote with which Joe closed the interview.

I was shy. I gotta tell you. I did it at ICP. Going to school there was amazing. I remember Salgado looking at my pictures, and all I could do was photograph my life as a taxi driver. I was really very shy, and I just I wound up shooting through the windows a lot—stuff on the street. It was pretty cinematic, but he saw the pictures, and he didn’t say anything. I fucking blew it. That killed me!

Then I took a workshop with Mary Ellen Mark, and she was the one who really kicked my ass. She said, “You don’t believe in who you are.” I got defensive and said “What do you mean?”

“Well, you don’t believe in yourself as a photographer,” she said. So, she gave me this exercise. “When you get up in the morning in your underwear stand in front of the mirror and tell yourself you’re a photographer for 15 minutes.”

Doesn’t that sound a little hokey to you? Believe it or not, your boy did it, and I began to slowly believe more in myself as a photographer.

Now, I tell my students the same. If you don’t go out with reverence when you say you want to photograph somebody, they’re not going to take you seriously. You’re going to get a snapshot, nothing more.

I found photography in a very amateur way; it gave me happiness, gladness, and made me want to produce something that I was interested and excited about. To this day, though, I’m still nervous when I’ve got to go out and photograph.

Read the full conversation at the ICP website.


Homicide Detectives Dobine and Cedric Pacific Division. From the series LAPD.


The Quiles family at home. Ramiro and Danny from Marianna Maravilla, with their mother Aida, and sister Maria. East Los Angeles, CA, 1993. From the series East Side Stories.


Rampart Officers search the house of a family of a man who was shot by a gang member in his living room. They check the building for the suspect. From the series LAPD.

East Los Angeles, CA, 1993.

Boyle Heights, Los Angeles, CA, 1993. From the series East Side Stories.

Boyle Heights

A Clarence Gang member is hit with five bullets from an automatic weapon on the night of a gang truce in East Los Angeles. His fellow gang members rush him to the hospital. From the series East Side Stories.

From the series Juvenile.


Rampart Division Officers detaining an arrested woman. From the series LAPD.


A family gathers the round of the coffin of Thomas Regalado III, who was killed by a stray bullet during a drive-by shooting. East Los Angeles, CA 1992. From the series East Side Stories.

Officers responding to a domestic violence call.

Officers responding to a domestic violence call. From the series LAPD.

The minors are leaving the facility and are chained down for transporting. San Jose Juvenile hall. San Jose, California 1999. From the series Juvenile.

From the series Juvenile.

LAPD State of Incarceration

If you’re in NYC make like a bandit down to the Queens Museum which is hosting the first ever East Coast performance of State of Incarceration (2010-ongoing) by the activist collective Los Angeles Poverty Department (LAPD).

I’ve been thinking a lot about how gallery spaces can work to induct audiences into a topic as fraught as prisons. Partly because talking about prisons is a two-part process. First, one must explain clearly what problems exist, how deep they run and from where they originated. Second — and usually because the first part is so overwhelming — you need to provide audiences an immediate stimulus to care. (I don’t worry about action at this early stage; if you succeed in getting someone to care, then action will follow later if it is to at all).

Normally, for the second part, a description of deplorable conditions will offend audiences and have them ready to care. But, for me, that’s not enough. It presumes the answer might be the eradication of bad conditions. I don’t want better prisons. I want fewer prisons.

State of Incarceration does an excellent job in jolting people because it describes the tortuous power relations and the dire psychological conditions within prisons. Shouting, noise and continual face-offs between characters amp up the negative energy. There’s no escape and audiences are put literally inside and on top of it all from among the “prison” bunks, and confronted by the illogic of the prison system in the form of maddening cacophony and maneuver.


I’m not usually one for understanding theatre but this direct performance makes sense. It’s made in California, which runs a prison system that makes less sense.

State of Incarceration is a performance space filled wall-to-wall with 60 triple-bunked beds, performers and audience share overcrowded conditions akin to a California state prison. One-third of the state’s parolees settle in the 55 square blocks of Los Angeles known as Skid Row, and State of Incarceration—developed collaboratively by LAPD’s Skid Row artists and in dialogue with organizers and recent parolees—powerfully examines the consequences of California’s penal system on individuals, families and communities. Outlining a ritual of incarceration from entry to release and re-integration, State of Incarceration constructs a complex challenge to the societal perceptions and fear-based policies of a nation with the highest rate of incarceration in the world.

It’s FREE with no reservations necessary!

Friday, January 31st, 7:30pm
Saturday, February 1, 7:30pm
Sunday, February 2, 5pm

Curator and artists’ gallery talk:
Sunday, February 2, 3pm

A free shuttlebus will be making loops between under the 7train CitiField/Willets Point stop and the museum from 2-8pm.

State of Incarceration is staged as part of Do You Want the Cosmetic Version or the Real Deal?: Los Angeles Poverty Department, 1985 – 2014, an exhibition on view at the Queens Museum through May 11.


prisonphotography [at] gmail [dot] com


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