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For my first piece for Timeline, I put a spotlight on a collection of mugshots, rediscovered and researched by artist Shayne Davidson. This adds to a her research of hundreds of antique mugshots depicting shoplifters, grifters, counterfeiters, “a wife murderer”, pickpockets and many more.

Made by the St. Louis Police Department between 1857 and 1867, the archive, held at the Missouri History Museum, comprises the oldest extant examples of mugshots in the U.S. Davidson has compiled many of the portraits into a new e-book Captured and Exposed (More).

Quote:

It’s hard to imagine U.S. law enforcement today without its wealth of tracking and surveillance technologies. From facial recognition to the databases being populated with drivers’ license photos of non-criminal citizens, from police scanners tracking all mobile devices in a five-block radius to lampposts that are listening in, federal investigators and police departments nationwide have never had more tools to capture images, scrape data, and monitor movements of people.

But these “smart” technologies (and the laws that allow their use) have developed only relatively recently, and incrementally. It’s not always been so sophisticated. A hundred and fifty years ago, shortly after the invention of photography, some police departments began making images of convicted criminals.

 

Read the full piece and see more portraits: America’s Oldest Mugshots Show the Naked Faces of the Downtrodden, Criminal and Marginalized

 

 

 

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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

Here’s a nice human interest piece in the St. Louis Daily by photographer 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.”

Forbes:

“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.”

[My bolding]

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/

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