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© Dane Jones/Center for Employment Opportunities

What happens after incarceration? What does life look like; how does one operate? More to the point what does the world look like?

With the development of Released the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) in New York has tackled these queries with a multi-media-headed-hydra of photography and narrative.

Released “produced to offer a rarely seen perspective of those returning home from prison or jail” was set in motion by Cara Shih, Marketing Director at CEO. It consists of two parallel projects.

Firstly – to describe what life looks like – she contracted three young photographers to capture, produce and tell the stories of CEO’s clients as they left prison and built new lives.

Secondly – to describe what the world looks like – Shih enlisted CEO clients to self-document their re-assimilation into society.

The result are two very different sets of valuable works.

© Dane Jones/Center for Employment Opportunities

© Darryl Allen/Center for Employment Opportunities

© Darryl Allen/Center for Employment Opportunities

The main body of work for Released is the collection of nine slideshows of nine individuals (youtube/embeddable) by photographers Jeyhoun Allebaugh, Michael Scott Berman and Bryan Tarnowski. There’s no narration but the subjects’ own, and that’s everything that’s needed. These are real characters. Kudos to Allebaugh, Berman and Tarnowski for getting out the way of the stories.

It was Allebaugh who first contacted me about the project and so I fired him back a few questions. Before that, let me mention the second element of Released.

As you know though I have high expectations of prison arts education and the prospect of self-rehabilitation through photography, so when Allebaugh explained the ‘Snapshot Project’ within the Released project I knew I wanted images made by the six former prisoners on disposable cameras to feature here on Prison Photography. Allebaugh understood.

I speak more on ‘Snapshot Project’ after the Q&A.

JEYHOUN ALLEBAUGH Q&A

PP: How did you come across this project?

JA: Released was the brainchild of Cara Shih. She wanted to create an honest and genuine portrayal of the experience of her participants in a creative and artistic way.

PP: Had prison improved or set back the lives of the nine subjects you followed?

JA: Hmm. That is a difficult and complex question. While incarcerated, one of my subjects, Revond Cox, had to attend his son’s funeral in shackles and a DOC jumpsuit while his other young son sat graveside. I’m not sure any person should have to go through something like that. To call it a “setback” would certainly fall short. However, in his piece on the site, he says, “[prison] saved me from death because the way I was running, it was just a matter of time.” He clearly has his head on very straight about the type of father he wants to be and I do think some of that epiphany is directly related to his very difficult time in prison.

PP: Do you think the systems for employment, reintegration are fair for those formerly incarcerated?

JA: Life is extremely difficult for formerly incarcerated people coming home. The line between a new life and their old lives is razor thin and just as sharp. It is often much more complex than just coming home and doing right. Coming back to families and the stigma of finding a job as an ex-con make it very difficult. That said, I think organizations like the Center for Employment Opportunity are a very effective way to balance these things out, but many go without services such as these.

PP: What’s your biggest take away from the project?

JA: When we started this project, one of the key ideas behind Released was to show that when the formerly incarcerated come back home, it is often not to the “clean slate” that many of us imagine it to be. We wanted to show that there are new and different obstacles these people must face and I believe the project highlighted these well, showing some of the areas where the aid of an organization like CEO is imperative.

I believe what ended up being great about the project, however, was that more than the differences, the similarities between what the subjects and normal people go through on a day to day basis was what was most evident. I think this is what was really special about seeing photographs taken by the subjects themselves in addition to the ones we took as professional photographers.

The nine individuals we documented over three months are some of the best human spirits I have come across; absolutely amazing people. I hope you’ll spend a couple minutes getting to know them by watching the short videos on the site.

I’ve very much enjoyed staying in touch with these great people since the project. Listening to them talk about the continual triumphs and struggles of this great life we are given has truly been a gift and is a great inspiration to me.

© Jose L Padilla/Center for Employment Opportunities

© Jose L Padilla/Center for Employment Opportunities

© Jose L Padilla/Center for Employment Opportunities

‘SNAPSHOT PROJECT’, RELEASED, CEO

The snapshots are the daily details, daily grind and efforts and situations that don’t make it onto an outsider’s camera or off the cutting room floor. If Allebaugh et al. provided the over-arching narratives of empowerment and improvement, these are the chapters, pages and phrases.

As Allebaugh stated, the snapshots show off the same foibles we all have – Jose Padilla‘s fashion savvy, big smile and willingness to perform for the camera; Dane Jones‘ wonder with the street and his omission of self; Lewis Epps‘ focus on the activities, training and environments to keep him on track; Dwayne Allen‘s tourist shots of Manhattan’s Financial District; Chester Boston‘s preoccupation with portraiture and the family; and Michael Hunt‘s meanderings about his new or old neighbourhood.

Too often we can get caught behind the idea – and support of – a large goal without stopping to think about the many tiny, terrifying steps needed to achieve the goal. These images reveal those steps. Due purely to the equipment, the ‘Snapshot Project‘ is overlaid with naivety. But there is also good intentions, massively important small victories and the promise of networks that will help these men achieve a life outside prison permanently.

© Lewis Epps/Center for Employment Opportunities

© Lewis Epps/Center for Employment Opportunities

LEWIS EPPS ON LIVING IN A SHELTER, PHOTOGRAPHY, AND HIS MOTHER

If you want to know more about Lewis Epps, CEO has published a Q&A with Epps on their blog. Here’s my choice of quotes:

I was happy that I was doing [The Snapshot Project] and engaging in a project that would reflect my life. You know how you want to leave a legacy? I want people to say, “Yeah, Lewis he’s a good guy.” You know, I was doing something good to help me, and to help others, and also to be thankful to CEO for the opportunity.

I feel like I am ashamed to be in a shelter, I have never been in one my entire life. I had no place to live, so they released me to the shelter.

I have a tight, helpful family and we’re all very close. I lived in the Bronx, that’s where my criminal activities came from. My mother is elderly and I don’t want to bring that back to her … My family is very supportive. I go every Saturday to my mother’s to do painting, backyard, do work for her. Sundays I go to church.

I’m about to move from a shelter into a room of my own. I save my checks. I hide my money when I cash my checks, so I’m not tempted to spend it. I’ve been saving for three months since I started working and I’m almost ready. I also have family support. Finding a suitable place is tough. I can’t afford a room yet but I’m doing better than I’ve been in the past. I need a permanent job so I can retain my income and keep being able to afford a place of my own.

It stays in front of me, being re-incarcerated. Once I stop being good, I could be back. I’m too old to go back, I’ve got to move forward and think positive. CEO is helping me strive, and I know I’ve got to keep my focus. Once I don’t keep focus that could be it. One mess-up, that’s all it takes. I’m not going to do that again. I’m going to stay around people who are trying to help me.

Shih informs me a similar Q&A with Jose Padilla is next.

© Chester Boston/Center for Employment Opportunities

© Chester Boston/Center for Employment Opportunities
© Michael Hunt/Center for Employment Opportunities

© Michael Hunt/Center for Employment Opportunities

SNAPSHOT PROJECT PARTICIPANT-PHOTOGRAPHERS

Dane Jones, 26, lives in the Bronx with roommates. His challenges to re-entry include obtaining employment, education, financial management and housing. When asked what is the most challenging part of his daily life, he says “fitting in and conforming to the norms of society.”

Lewis Epps, 49, resides in a shelter. Currently he works on the transitional job sites while searching for permanent employment. His biggest challenges to re-entry are obtaining full-time work and permanent housing. He has a very supportive family who is helping him succeed in the re-entry process.

Darryl Allen, 46, lives in Queens with his father, brother and nephews. He has three daughters (including a pair of twins), and his eldest daughter is a lawyer. His biggest challenge to re-entry is obtaining employment. Darryl says the most challenging part of his daily life is “being a friend and father to my children.”

Chester Boston, 34, lives in Queens with his uncle. His biggest challenge to re-entry is obtaining employment. He has a five year old daughter, whom he named after his mother. He says fighting for custody is a daily challenge and not seeing her is very hard.

Jose L. Padilla, 47, lives in Brooklyn. After completing Life Skills Education and becoming Job Start Ready, he landed a full-time job and now comes to CEO for retention services. To him staying punctual is the most challenging part of his day. He has a certificate in construction.

Michael Hunt, 48, lives in Brooklyn. His biggest challenge to re-entry is finding stability in his life, and “being able to be myself and become employed at the same time.” His certificates include carpentry, electrical technician, fire guard and maintenance.

If you would like to hire CEO participants please contact Mary Bedeau at 212 422 4430 x345.

‘RELEASED’ PHOTOGRAPHERS BIOGRAPHIES

Jeyhoun Allebaugh is a freelance photographer who specializes in documentary, sports and portraiture photography. He is based in New York City and North Carolina. As a Turkish-American and avid fan of Hip-Hop and Bluegrass music who has spent his college years in the mountains of North Carolina as well as South Africa, Jeyhoun brings a diversity of taste to all aspects of his life. His work has appeared in GQ, PDN Emerging Photographer, USA Today, UK Guardian, SLAM Magazine, HOOP Magazine, The Durham Herald-Sun, The Durham Independent Weekly, NBA.com and SI.com.

Michael Scott Berman is a photographer specializing in food and portraits. His past clients include the New York Daily News, the Guardian, PNC Bank, and the AARP. He was the recipient of two grants from the Brooklyn Arts Council and has exhibited his work at the Leica Gallery in Manhattan and at Brooklyn Borough Hall. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and a Master of Business Administration from Georgetown University. Besides taking pictures, Michael also produces video and writes stories for his food blog, pizzacentric.com.

Bryan Tarnowski grew up in North Carolina and moved up to New York City to pursue photography in 2008. He assists with a number of the best fashion, commercial and portrait photographers in the world and has worked on shoots for top magazines and worldwide ad campaigns. Focusing on social documentary subjects of a wide variety, he likes to shoot what interests him, often to learn more about a subject and to quench his thirst for greater knowledge of the world. His work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Vibe Magazine, PDNedu among others.

Last month, Allebaugh, Berman and Tarnowski exhibited their work at the CultureFix Gallery on the Lower East Side. CEO has a Flickr set of the opening.

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The U.S. military freed Ibrahim Jassam Mohammed, a Reuters photographer, in Iraq on Wednesday, almost a year and a half after snatching him from his home in the middle of the night and placing him in military detention without charge.

Eugene V. Debs, Five times Socialist candidate for President, as he leaves the Federal Peniteniary at Atlanta, Georgia on Christmas Day, 1921 Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, # LC-USZ62-75578 (b&w film copy neg). Photoprint copyrighted by Underwood & Underwood, No. S/282,151/FC.

Eugene V. Debs, Five times Socialist candidate for President, as he leaves the Federal Penitentiary at Atlanta, Georgia on Christmas Day, 1921. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-75578 (B&W film copy neg). Photoprint copyrighted by Underwood & Underwood, No. S/282,151/FC.

Eugene V. Debs is a hero for the prison reform movement. Which is strange given that prison reform per se wasn’t his main cause. Debs was a labor rights advocate, union organiser and Socialist Party pioneer.

Debs was a harsh critic of American draft policies of the First World War; he was accused of sedition and labeled a traitor by Woodrow Wilson. Debs’ June 1918 anti-war speech saw him arrested under the war-time espionage law. He was sentenced to 10 years. He was effectively a political prisoner.

It is the statement Debs delivered in his court hearing that has inspired generations of prison activists:

Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.

Given that Marx’s Das Kapital was published in 1867, Debs’ adoption of Socialism is relatively late. Ironically, it was while he was imprisoned in Woostock, Illinois during 1895 that he read Marx’s work and upon release became an avowed Socialist.

Debs ran for the US Presidency five times; first as a member of the Social Democratic Party of the United States (1900) and later as the candidate for the Socialist Party of America (1904, 1908, 1912 & 1920). In both the 1912 and 1920 elections Debs’ received nearly one million votes, 6% and 3.4% of the popular vote, respectively.

The 1920 campaign was run from within prison – after his 1918 speech he was convicted in April of 1919. The photograph above is of Debs’ release on Christmas Day, 1921 when his sentence was commuted to time served.

Debs legacy lives on partly in the form of the Eugene V. Debs Award. Past winner include Studs Terkel, Howard Zinn, Kurt Vonnegut, Molly Ivins, Pete Seeger and Ralph Nader.

Musings on the ‘Third Candidate’

I am always fascinated by the presence of historical figures who have disturbed the prevalent two party system of America. As unsavory as George Wallace was, his impact as a third candidate is worth measuring. Today, Ralph Nader’s name is synonymous with the term ‘third candidate’ and for his involvement in the 2000 general election his is vilified as the reason Al Gore did not become president. I am sick of hearing such a whinging and backward logic. Al Gore did not become president of the United States because he failed to win enough Electoral College votes and we well know the hanging, Floridian chaddy reasons for that.

People’s criticism of Nader says more about their surrender to a seemingly perpetual two party system than it does of his perceived faults.

Nader has made the point that neither the suffragettes or civil rights activists made it to elected office but that didn’t prevent them effecting massive change. If people are criticising any third candidate it is because they are more focused on the intractable two-party system than they are on their own agency and potential to effect change.

Image source.

On Thursday, 28th May, photographs of prison conditions and detainee custody from six facilities other than Abu Ghraib will be released to the public.

Reports over the weekend suggested a figure of 44, but the Guardian has stated over 2,000 photographs are to be made public. Images of Bagram Air base in Afghanistan are included in the cache. Critics will surely scan for similarities in detention/torture methods used in Afghanistan as in Iraq to argue against the ‘few bad apples’ logic that railroaded earlier attempts to bring military and government commanding authorities to full-accountability.

boarding

ACLU’s advocacy deserves international acclaim. Not only have they forced the release of photographic evidence they won a ruling to prevent the destruction of audio tapes that record torture scenarios.

This is an interesting counterpoint. I presume we all assume we’ll see the images in the printed press. Would we expect the tapes to play on our televisions and radios? That scenario makes me uncomfortable.

Continuing with issues of format, it will be interesting to see how the media presents the-soon-to-be-released photographic documents in contrast to the recent torture memo’s. WoWoWoW set the bar low with the tabloid inquiry “How Bad Will They Be?” and the Los Angeles Times allays fears with a dead-pan assessment, “examined by Air Force and Army criminal investigators, are apparently not as shocking as those taken at Abu Ghraib.

No doubt these images will be contested and a ‘Meaning-War’ over the images will ensue, but I think people for and against the Bush administration’s interrogation policies are not going to change their position now – whatever the evidence.”

But, I guess it depends who’s looking.

bush_rorschach_test

Lefties want more weaponry in the push for prosecution of Bush and his cronies for war crimes. The right is debilitated and otherwise occupied by the economy, stocking guns before the “Obama-ban” and the latest Meghan McCain slur.

Politicians from both parties seem to want this to go away, snarking on about how the release of yet more Un-American activities will only fuel the burning hate toward the US. This position is an insult.

Did Bush care what Iraqi’s would think when he bombed them out of house and home? Did Bush care to think how American’s would react in the face of diminished civil liberties? Yet here, politicians of both parties are scrambling to avoid the negative reactions of entrenched, fundamental opponents INSTEAD of anticipating the beneficial good-will and return to mutual trust provided by honest disclosures of a transparent and constitutional government. Why cover-up a cover-up?

Maybe, the Democrats are shy to see these documents because they may implicate their top brass?

torture

One concern I will air, is that all this could move toward some bizarre show-trial scenario, where lawyers bargain, Bush is spared, the American public settle for a conviction of Cheney, and careers and reputations lie in waste on both sides of the aisle!?!

I certainly didn’t expect the incriminating documents to flood as they have in recent weeks. I have no idea how all this is going to shake down. Obama doesn’t seem to have control of this. That doesn’t bother me. No-one can hold back the truth.

So, as wise at it’d be to remember the date, 28th May, you should bear in mind the photographs of abuse could well leak earlier…

________________________________________________

First Image lifted from Gerry May. http://www.gerrymay.com/?p=1426

Cartoon courtesy of the Nation. http://www.thenation.com/doc/20050307/duzyj

Final Image by Takomabibelot. http://www.flickr.com/photos/takomabibelot/2090273618/

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