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Yes folks, a US prison runs a rodeo for the entertainment of the public (from Louisiana and beyond). Believe it.

I have only ever discussed this event in terms of is dicey ethics, but being a weak-spined liberal never gone full-throtle in condemning it as exploitation. Matt Kelley and I were both agreed that we couldn’t fully judge the spectacle without having been ourselves or talked directly with participants.

I met Tim McKulka, one of many photographers to have shot at Angola, and asked for his impression.

The rodeo of course exploits the prisoners. It is gladiatorial . It is taking people without the skills to ride a bull and putting them on a bull for peoples’ entertainment. For the prisoners themselves, it gives them the opportunity to be a normal person a couple of weekends in the year. It is an opportunity to make some money, to see their family, to earn a belt … so what have they got to lose?

Do you think any of them are taking part precisely because they are on life sentences?

I don’t know what the percentage of the participants is in terms of lifers. I know in the prison itself has about 92% [of offenders on life sentences] Some of them for some absurdly minor crimes – a third offense or an unarmed robbery. But I don’t know. What I do know is that – from the prisoners I talked to – it’s a voluntary program and no-one is forced to do it.

They are being exploited but that prison in particular is the only prison in America that turns a profit so it is an exploitative institution anyway.

McKulka has since moved far away from the cultural mores of the American South. He has crossed an ocean and continent but continues documenting the politics of race and identity.

Tim McKulka started shooting for Edipresse Publications in 2003. With Jean-Cosme Delaloye, he covered diverse feature stories such as the crisis in Haiti in 2006, the Angola Prison Rodeo, the US presidential elections in 2004, illegal immigration into the US and New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina. In 2005, he covered the presidential elections in Liberia. In 2006, Tim started with Jean-Cosme this project of a news agency. He later joined the UN as a photographer in the fall 2006. He is now based in Juba, in Southern Sudan.

Two things today. First an important debate. Second my own reflections and housekeeping.

debate

Ben Chesterton at DuckRabbit has had ongoing discussions with MSF / Medicin Sans Frontier / Doctors Without Borders for many months (years?) about the use of media and the fine line between MSF’s promotion of aid work and fair representation of the peoples they work with. Duck has opened a worthwhile debate with Pete Masters of MSF on the duckrabbitblog with regard this new MSF advertisement.

Feel free to add your comments over on Duck’s blog. I know Ben will appreciate and we should all benefit, right?

house keeping

In absolutely no way related – AND, I encourage you not to presume the fictional scene in the MSF ad as one set in Africa – I’d like to return to an image I featured on Prison Photography in December.

McKulka Tim - Sudanese Detention Facility. UNMIS

The image is by Tim McKulka. The caption reads: The container which serves as a detention facility as human rights and protection officers make an inspection of the capacity of police and prison service.  UNMOs from Torit team site were engaged in a long range patrol to Chukudum along with various civilian sections of UNMIS in order to assess the security and social conditions of the area.

Last night, I had the great privilege of attending a YPIN World Affairs Council presentation by Tim McKulka and his partner Anyieth D’Awol about Human Rights in Sudan. There were a few thing that I took from the talk:

1. The problems in Darfur are very serious, but Darfur is not the only conflict in Sudan
2. Things are better now than they were one, two or three years ago – if you measure better by fewer deaths.
3. The predominant source of unrest in the Sudan always stems from the growth of the capital, Khartoum, at the expense of the periphery.
4. Since independence from the British in 1955, Southern Sudan has never known stable or benevolent governance (Civil wars raged from 1956 – 1975; and then from 1982 – 2005). The first war was settled with the drawing of a new boundary between North and South and newly provided autonomy. The second war began because rich reserves of oil were found within the territory of South Sudan and consequently Khartoum and the North reneged on the agreement, grasped for the wealth and resorted to aggression.
5. There exists to this day tribal conflicts in the central areas of contested lands, particularly Aybei where much of the oil reserves lie.

Needless to say the talk was humbling – Tim and Anyieth successfully gave a summary of culture and politics across the entire country, covering the last 60odd years. No small achievement!

I wanted to finally pin down some background to the image and so I asked Tim, “What is that container assemblage exactly?” His response,

It was in a place called Chukudum in southern Sudan, East Equatoria State and it shows that there is no other place to put prisoners. There are crimes being committed but there is no justice, no security; no security sector. The police don’t have guns, or cars, or transportation. They don’t have communications. So the container is what people are left to use when they have prisoners. What else can you do with them?

Tim has followed much of the peacekeeping and reconstruction work in Sudan. This has involved shadowing the training of new prison officers and the establishment of new institutions for juvenile justice. I hope to follow up on this with more involved comments from Anyieth as she, as a human rights lawyer, has far more knowledge in the area … and Tim deferred to her experience.

Here’s Tim’s portfolio Faces of Sudan.

Tim McKulka has been working as the senior photographer for the United Nations Mission in Sudan since September 2006. Prior to that, he was based in New York covering national and international news as a freelance photojournalist for Polaris Images. He graduated with a fine arts degree in photography from the School of Visual Arts in New York. His work has been featured in numerous national and international publications including The New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, Italian Vanity Fair, The Washington Post, and Time Magazine.

Anyieth D’Awol LLB, LLM is an independent researcher working in Southern Sudan. She has worked for the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) as a Human Rights Officer. She also worked for the Joint Donor Office as a Policy Officer. Anyieth was a Senior Researcher for the Presidential Advisor on Gender and Human Rights with the Government of Southern Sudan, focusing primarily on sexual violence and human rights issues and the military. She is the founder of a civil society organization providing underprivileged women and girls opportunities for sustainable income through arts and crafts while creating opportunities for capacity development in literacy and numeracy, and providing information on HIV, gender and human rights issues.

This blog is 10 weeks old. At that same age an infant is lifting its head and neck without help, blowing bubbles, smiling and cooing. I reckon this blog is straining its neck, blowing hot air, cooing to no-one, but certainly smiling to itself. So, things look good. I’d like to propose a vague rhythm for my posts. Now, read carefully for I shall say this only once.

Every week or so you’ll see long, well-researched and edited pieces about critical prison issues. Between these “anchor” posts, to keep the juggernaut powering on the information-super-motorway, I’ll post items a little more flimsy. They’ll definitely be prison and photography related, and usually with great visuals and little text. This is a warning to all you early readers to decipher the serious stuff from the really serious stuff.

So, without further ado let me bring to you a quite incredible image. In browsing the United Nations’ official photography galleries I came across this curious image tagged as “Prison”

The container serves as a detention facility. Human rights and protection officers made an inspection of the capacity om sif police and prison service.  UNMOs from Torit were engaged in a long range patrol to Chukudum along with various civilian sections of UNMIS in order to assess the security and social conditions of the area.

The container serves as a detention facility. Human rights and protection officers made an inspection of the capabilities of the local police and prison service. UNMOs from Torit were engaged in a long range patrol to Chukudum along with various civilian sections of UNMIS in order to assess the security and social conditions of the area.

Sudan, at last count, with 12,000 prison inmates had the lowest prison population of any North African country. In fact, Sudan is doing very well at not locking its population away. It is joint fifth, with Angola, of all the African nations for the lowest prison population (36 per 100,000 people). Sudan is surpassed by Mali (34), Nigeria (33), Gambia (32), and Burkina Faso (at a mere 23 inmates per 100,000 people)! Source.

These figures should absolutely be compared to US figures where 1,000 of every 100,000 American adults are behind bars. 1 in every hundred US adults is under the jurisdiction of federal or state corrections! It’s madness, it’s broken and it’s costing a fortune. (I warned my politics might creep through every so often).

Torit and Chukudum are in the very southeast of Sudan, close to the borders of Uganda and Kenya. This site is over a thousand miles from the Darfur region. It’s even further to the border and refugee camps of Chad. I have no comment on Darfur here. I only wanted to point out that as we grasp and grapple to understand the people in the world around us and we conjure makeshift plans and patchwork solutions, sometimes they involve small personal sacrifices and sometimes they involve locking other human beings in shipping containers.

As of August 2002, Sudan had 125 sites of incarceration – 4 federal prisons, 26 local government prisons, 46 provincial prisons, 45 open and semi-open prisons and 4 reformatory centres for juveniles. I wonder what the nomenclature is for this box? The picture was taken in April, 2007 by Tim McKulka, who has also done some photography covering the Angola Prison Rodeo in Louisiana, an event of which I have opinions. Indeed, I have a piece up my sleeve on my hard drive, awaiting…

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