Friday, September 9, 2011

More time in jail

I am humbled by my experience today. There are things that happen in life that can lead us to make choices we wouldn't have normally made, and then the world can judge us. While working in the prison, it has not been my intent to find out about any one person's particular crimes. I don't want to know; I don't want to judge. They've been judged already. But a couple times today, there was reference to deep pain, and I was moved.

Two women (I won't tell you which), asked me to photograph grave stones. They wrote on my form that these were people they loved dearly. Later, I was told the prison might not want me to make those images, as the deaths were caused by the inmates. And I hate to say, my curiosity got the better of me. I googled.

One of the deaths read like a self-defense case against a drug-addicted and raging mate. Even in the article, everyone quoted mentioned how in-love they were but how sick he was. She is serving twenty-five years.

Another woman didn't realize how severe injuries given to her child by his babysitter were; she is in jail for fifteen years because she waited five hours before calling 911.

Once you start searching, it's hard to stop. It's like eating three or four pieces of chocolate when you meant to have one or two. What's one more search... Another woman, who wanted a picture of a waterfall, had convinced a man to kill her husband, who had been raping and beating her for years. She was convicted for forty years.

I don't know what to think of these articles. Keep in mind that I am only reporting what I read on newspaper sites, not what the women themselves said. The reporters seem to be grievously lacking in their skills as journalists... I can't figure out how you can report a woman being sentenced for murder while also presenting what seem to be extenuating and unconsidered circumstances, and not point out some huge, if unfixable error in the legal system.

Other women who showed up in a google search had drug charges or "bad check" charges. Some women's names were only related to touching stories about the volunteer work they have been doing while in jail. Most of the women's names didn't bring up a result; their crime and incarceration apparently aren't worth noting online.

When I had lunch in the cafeteria, I saw some of the women I photographed last time . They smiled and waved at me. One is supposed to get out in the next week.

A couple of the younger women were so interested in the photographing process, they stayed with me and helped me get the next sitter ready, running the flashlight over to help me focus the 4" x 5" camera. At one point between sitters, one asked me what I expected it to be like in prison before I came. I laughed and was honest.

"I thought it would be like on t.v. with bars and cells and angry people who would try to shiv me if I turned my back on them."

She laughed too, and said it was actually nice. Since my talk with the Volunteer Coordinator at lunch had included a discussion about the prison's main goal of rehabilitation and education, of teaching women that they have worth and don't need to become the label "felon" when they leave, I could see her point. In some ways, I think lots of people could use training on how to be good members of the community. We all could use education, rehabilitation, and reminders that we are worth something and can be forgiven.

Later, they thanked me for including them in the project, and said, "Please let us know if you need anything else!"

I have a long list of places to visit after today's shoot. The most unusual one is Victoria's Secret.

All the images are now on my website. Check often as I add the landscapes.

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