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The prison officials had given us a room where we could talk to the women and I could take their pictures. […] I photographed each woman in a slightly different setting. When it was Williams’ turn, I photographed her next to a calendar showing the date: May 1987.
I told the warden that I wanted to see the women in more of a typical prison setting. After much discussion, I was allowed to photograph Williams in her room, as long as I didn’t show any other prisoners or the barbed wire fences surrounding the prison.
– J.B. Forbes
May, 1987 Chillicothe, Missouri Vicky Williams was 30 years old in 1987 when she posed for a photo in the Chillicothe Correctional Center where she was serving a 50-year sentence for killing her husband. © J.B. Forbes
“I was not interested in judging Vicky Williams’ guilt or innocence,” says Forbes. “This was a woman whose life was dramatically different from mine, someone for whom time had stood still.”
“After a decade-long fight by lawyers who took the cause of several women convicted of murdering their husbands, the state Board of Probation and Parole granted Williams an early release. The lawyers pointed to claims of abuse, the fact that domestic violence was poorly understood years ago, and a new state law that said abuse victims could be granted early release under certain conditions. The move infuriated prosecutors and relatives of Gilbert Williams.”
“By the time Williams walked out of the prison, she had been behind bars for 32 years. She was now 55.”
Forbes was with Williams during her first few hours of freedom following early release. Quite intriguing, to me at least, are Williams’ first requests upon leaving prison:
“One of her first requests was to see the town of Chillicothe. She’d been there all this time, but she had no idea what the town was like. She wanted to see a local Catholic church because she had watched from prison as a crane installed a new steeple there. She wanted to pray there because a priest had prayed in the sanctuary for her during her appeals process.”
“And she wanted to visit the grave of one of the prison guards who had befriended her. When the guard died in 2004, Williams was not allowed to attend the funeral. I watched as she poured a vanilla Coke on the ground next to the grave. It was the guard’s favorite drink.”
Photo: Chris Mottalini
Quilting as a form of rehabilitation for prisoners may seem unorthodox, even beyond the pale, but really it doesn’t surprise me. It’s been put in place at Jefferson City Correctional Center, Missouri.
I was intrigued impressed by how the practice was described by this UTNE Reader article:
They quilt, from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. five days a week, as part of a program called restorative justice, an ancient practice turned curriculum that equates a crime committed with a debt to be repaid. The world was introduced to elements of it by South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which sought to heal the wounds of apartheid through conversation and confrontation between the victims of human rights violations and the perpetrators. In the past decade, restorative justice programs, which promote similar dialogues and reparative activities like quilting and gardening, have emerged in prisons and communities across America.
Restorative justice, which focuses on the victims needs, is potentially the sharp-end of a positive trend that deals with the emotional repercussions of crime, beyond simple notions of retribution … and its widespread implementation might just drive down US prison populations.
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Photographer, Chris Mottalini‘s other work can be viewed at http://www.mottalini.com/