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Chalkdrawing

My friend Graham MacIndoe made this photograph a couple of years ago in the Gowanus/Cobble Hill area of Brooklyn, NY. “The bit that lies between the projects and the ever expanding gentrification,” explains MacIndoe who just came across the negative again this week.

A second time round, it was one of those not unusual moments of revelation that photographers have. MacIndoe saw story in this old image he’d forgotten since the first go around.

“There were two or three kids about 9 or 10 years old,” recollects MacIndoe of the day he made the shot. “If I recall there were no adults around. The kids had just finished a game and were starting another. One kid was teasing the other about going to jail.”

This photograph, this reality, floors me.

Directly, the image’s visual elements spell-out the school-to-prison-pipeline? It’d be too obvious if it weren’t for the fact, there’s no political statement being made here. This is play. This is play?

Pavement chalk, used by children for generations to invent new games is the type of material that any kid has access to, right? Right. But some kids have access only to chalk and probably not more expensive toys or educational games. The chips are beer bottle tops (Heineken I can identify; the others Bud Light? Maybe Sam Adams?) Is this what happens without XBox? Do children draw themselves acutely closer to reality than adults dare? Does childhood imagination work the other way too? Do we lose brave imagination in adulthood in order to inoculate ourselves against our terrifying, divided reality?

The game the kids have pathed out has depressingly few number of options; in fact it seems to be that you survive outside of prison only until you don’t — it is a case of when, not if.

This is an imagination particular only to poor kids. How horrified would we be if every American child’s imagination turned to these dark concepts? How broken our country would be, huh? Well, as long as we’ve communities so broken that kids dabble in make-believe about jail as easily as Santa then our country IS broken. No child should occupy such a dour imaginative landscape?

SCRAWLS ABUNDANT

Photography has recently focused on, and relied upon to some degree, untrained scrawls to tell stories. From Hetherington’s War Graffiti and Broomberg & Chanarin’s Red House to idiots like me pointing my iPhone at scribbles on walls. It is easy for us to lean on the narrative and evocations of anonymous or near anonymous humans. In prisons, cell walls are etched full with writings coming from a point of deprivation. Photographs reflect that. I’m saying this because, often the motif of photographing writing is dismissed (such is our level of expectation, at this point, is there anything more boring than a not-funny-protest-sign?) And, I’m saying this because I don’t think MacIndoe’s picture deserves to be overlooked.

This picture is literally what is happening on the ground. We’re told about it from the mouths — and minds — of babes.

These kids have created a game for their own world experience. They’ve created a thing not meant for anyone’s consumption but their own. But it is a public thing. In the absence of political awareness rises the most powerful political statement. It is fierce and it is scary. We want to fight back. But we cannot. We cannot doubt these children or discredit the uncomfortable truth they’ve presented. Instead, we are forced to justify this world they’re in. This world is ours and hopefully ours to improve for younger generations.

PICTURE OF THE YEAR

This is the most thought provoking image I have seen all year. I’ve not allowed myself time on a single image like this for a while.

And, yet, I know next to nothing about it. Please help me understand. Are games like this common in that area of Brooklyn? In NYC? In other American cities? These games might be commonplace and it might be merely my inexperience that explains my astonishment. But, of course, knowing the rampant inequality in this country and the exceptionally harsh treatment it reserves for the poor, I should not be surprised.

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An inmate talks on the phone at San Quentin State Prison, California, June 8, 2012. © REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Everybody knows prisoners are routinely ripped off by the phone provider/dept. of corrections contracts across the States. Yet, it’s not something I’ve dealt with in depth here at Prison Photography (except for a brief bout of disgust toward a foolish Gaga music vid.)

Why does the cost of telephone contact matter?

Research has routinely showed that the maintenance of family ties during incarceration is the biggest factor in helping former prisoners break the cycle of recidivism and imprisonment.

“Currently, the high rates charged in most states can force the families of incarcerated people to choose between keeping in touch with a relative behind bars and putting food on the table,” says Peter Wagner, executive director of the Prison Policy Initiative.

The Prison Policy Initiative, recently published The Price To Call Home: State-Sanctioned Monopolization In The Prison Phone Industry, an extensive report on the exorbitant telephone charges levied upon prisoners. The details are shocking. Non-competitive – and arguably corrupt – agreements exist between private phone companies and the state prison systems with whom they contract.

“Prison phone companies are awarded monopolies through bidding processes in which they submit proposals to the state prison systems; in all but eight states, these contracts include promises to pay “commissions” – in effect, kickbacks – to states, in either the form of a percentage of revenue, a fixed upfront payment, or a combination of the two,” writes Drew Kukorwoski, the PPI report author.

The vast differences in phone rates is evidence enough of a piecemeal and unregulated approach. PPI details:

“In many states, someone behind bars must pay about $15 for a fifteen minute phone call. […] Rates vary widely between states — even between states that use the same prison phone company. A fifteen minute long-distance phone call from Global Tel*Link costs $2.36 in Massachusetts, but that same call costs more than $17 in Georgia. This large difference in rates originates in large part from the wide range — anywhere from 15% to 60% — in the size of kickbacks that prison phone companies pay to state governments.”

One day after the release of the PPI report, Costly Phone Calls for Inmates, a New York Times editorial noted that New York state prohibited the practice of kick backs and that the Federal prison system uses a computerised and affordable phone system. Such examples lead me to think that there is no excuse for the flagrant extortion of millions of prisoners and their families.

So, which are the companies behind this ignored corner of the prison industrial complex? What does this monopoly look like? Kukorowski for PPI:

“Over the past few years, three corporations have emerged to dominate the market. 90% of incarcerated persons live in states with prison phone service that is exclusively controlled by Global Tel*Link, Securus Technologies, or CenturyLink. The largest of these corporations, Global Tel*Link, currently has contracts for 27 state correctional departments after its acquisition of four smaller prison phone companies between 2009 and 2011. Global Tel*Link-controlled states contain approximately 57% of the total state population of incarcerated people in the United States. Government regulation was designed to control this kind of corporate domination over a captive market.”

The report was cited in a letter from Congress members Reps. Waxman and Rush to the FCC.

“Affordable phone calls home are a proven way to reduce the high social and economic costs of incarceration and recidivism. Inmates’ families have been waiting for relief for almost a decade.  It’s time for the FCC to take action,” said Rep. Waxman.

Last week, the Prison Policy Initiative mobilized the corporate accountability organization Sum Of Us to organize their members to sign a petition to the FCC.

“Tens of thousands of their members have already signed the petition, and we’ll be delivering the petitions to the FCC soon,” says Wagner

WHAT TO DO?

Take action with Sum Of Us.

Take action with Thousand Kites.

Read more at the Prison Policy Initiative.

The High Cost of Prison Phone Calls: A TakePart Infographic

Source: Take Part

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