Category Archives: Articles & Media

Richard Ross: Juvenile In Justice

Photo: Richard Ross

Photo: Richard Ross

I’ve been locked up for 21 months. I haven’t been sentenced yet. —D.P., age 16 Bridges Juvenile Center (Spofford), Bronx, New York, a secure detention facility built in 1957 with a maximum capacity of 75 kids, closed March 2011.

Photo: Richard Ross

Photo: Richard Ross

A 12-year-old juvenile in his windowless cell at Harrison County Juvenile Detention Center in Biloxi, Mississippi, operated by Mississippi Security Services, a private company. There is currently a lawsuit against MSS that forced it to reduce the center’s population. An 8:1 inmate to staff ratio must now be maintained.

The above images and text are from Richard Ross’ incredible “Juvenile In Justice” photography series, which was recently published in a book and currently on display in a touring gallery show.

This week we have Pete Brook visiting our class to join in the detention center workshop and present on his work back at PNCA. In honor of Pete’s work on prison photography (see more about that here), I wanted to post about photographer Richard Ross’ striking — and particularly relevant to our class — work in this field. Ross’ photographs observe and capture the stark, solitary moments of life in detention… the moments that even we who visit the facilities do not see. The moments of boredom, loneliness, and confinement that likely dominate the daily lives of these young people.

Ross describes the Juvenile In Justice project thus: “Juvenile In Justice is a project to document the placement and treatment of American juveniles housed by law in facilities that treat, confine, punish, assist and, occasionally, harm them.”

The New York Times wrote, in a review of his show at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts in New York City last winter:

The prisons in the photographs are often clean, plain, almost blank spaces, not all that different from contemporary art galleries and, it would seem, similarly conceived, though with different dynamics of power. The white-box gallery is intended as a timeless, cultureless space that gives forceful visibility to the art contained in it. The prisons are designed to throw figures of prisoners — in their Mondrian-red or yellow or black-striped uniforms — into sharp, surveillable relief and to disempower them through a kind of cultural neutralizing.

Breaking the pictures’ pristine look are the texts that accompany them, in which the young people photographed — all faces are obscured — speak of early abuse, material deprivation and emotional disturbance, realities that jail is likely to extend and exacerbate.

Conceptually, the show is a sobering trip down the dead-end street that is America’s prison system. Visually, it’s as gripping as any art around, and, in Mr. Ross’s book, comes with a memorable epigraph by Booker T. Washington: “The study of art that does not result in making the strong less willing to oppose the weak means little.”

I urge you to explore more of Richard Ross’ work at his website.

Photo: Richard Ross

Photo: Richard Ross

I’m doing my “seg time.” I spend all day and all night in here. No mattress, no sheets, and I get all my meals through this slot. — J., age 16, in a segregation cell in South Bend Juvenile Correctional Facility, South Bend, Indiana.

Reading as Rehabilitation

 

socrates

Can reading and discussing Socrates or Of Mice and Men in a classroom transform a person? Change his perspective,  push her to think more critically or reflect differently?

For many of us who have been positively impacted by our academic experiences with literature, we’d readily say yes. But what about someone who didn’t have access to AP English in high school, who hardly felt welcomed by the classics at all because he reads at a 3rd grade level and was accordingly never given the opportunity to engage with such books?

OfMiceAndMen

Over These Prison Walls is all about the power of literacy–making it enjoyable, and accessible, to youth in detention–and so it is very cool to see an article from the Guardian that one of our students, Sam, sent along: Novel Approach: Reading Courses as an Alternative to Prison. It profiles an impressive new program being implemented in Texas, called Changing Lives Through Literature–an alternative sentencing program “based on the power to transform lives through reading and group discussion.”

CLTL is (from their website) “essentially a reading group that meets over a period of weeks and that is attended by an instructor, probation officer, judge, and students … CLTL has the ability to allow us to make connections with the characters or ideas in a text and to rethink our own behavior.”

It is truly heartening that the simple yet profound acts of reading and discussion are being recognized by judges as a legitimate sentencing alternative, and an essential part of a more effective rehabilitation system.

 

 

What’s My Campaign?

Through our work with the youth in detention, it becomes impossible to not feel the magnitude of Measure 11 — It weighs heavy upon the shoulders of the boys, looms in the long fluorescent-lit hallways of the facility, surfaces on the pages of their artwork and writing.

We ask: But what can we do?

The Campaign for Youth Justice is a good place to start. It is “dedicated to ending the practice of trying, sentencing and incarcerating youth under the age of 18 in the adult criminal justice system.”

The site provides a Fact Sheet that illuminates the findings of a 2011 report, Misguided Measures: The Outcomes and Impacts of Measure 11 on Oregon’s Youth.

Below is their PSA:

Image

Herman Wallace

Critical Resistance posted a nice reflection, written by Isaac Ontiveros, on the legacy of Herman Wallace, who was a member of the Angola 3. After being wrongfully accused of killing a prison guard, Wallace spent 42 years in solitary confinement. Suffering from advanced cancer at age 71, he was finally released on Tuesday.

He died three days later, on Friday.

The Innocence Project/The Advocate

The Innocence Project/The Advocate

From the Critical Resistance piece:

The state is terrified of the creativity, compassion, knowledge, and drive for freedom of those it imprisons—especially those that have the capacity to organize and develop the energies of others.  In continuing to fight against the violence of solitary confinement, in honoring the legacies—past and present—of resistance inside, we are emboldened and encouraged by the ever-growing spirit of life personified in people like Herman Wallace.

Read the essay HERE.

 

 

 

The New York Times also wrote a good article on Wallace. which also mentions an art project he collaborated on with artist Jackie Sumell:

A page from a letter in which Herman Wallace described his dream house to the artist Jackie Sumell.

A page from a letter in which Herman Wallace described his dream house to the artist Jackie Sumell.