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Juvenile in Justice is an image-based project aiming to document the placement and treatment of American Juveniles housed by law in facilities that treat, confine, punish, assist and, occasionally, harm them. Richard Ross, a California-based photographer, began the project five years ago and it has been traveling as an art exhibit around the world for the last year.
From the website:
Juvenile in Justice includes images of over 1,000 juveniles and administrators over 200 facilities in 31 states in the U.S, plus extensive information collected from interviews. The hope is that by seeing these images, people will have a better understanding of the conditions that exist. Children’s identities are always protected and faces are never shown.
Juvenile In Justice is a unique source for images of the American juvenile justice system, which are made available to all institutions and non-profits aimed at youth justice system reform– including the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Campaign for Youth Justice, Equal Justice Initiative, Southern Poverty Law Center, and the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange.
It was difficult to find any information about how Ross gained access into so many facilities and was able to interview so many young people. The only limited explanation of the process that I could find was in a press release for the Ronald Feldman gallery in New York City (one of the hosts for the traveling exhibit). It reads:
Ross gains access to the spaces of incarceration, and those working and living within them, through a complicated process of obtaining permission from all levels of administration, permission that is often at the discretion of individuals working in the system. [He says,] ‘I wanted to give a voice to those with the least amount of authority in any U.S. confinement system.’
It is interesting to consider the relationships among “youth,” “media” and “educational justice” as they intersect and emerge within the Juvenile in Justice project. Ross uses familiar art forms (photographs, video, audio recordings) to tell the stories of young people in the juvenile justice system. His work provides an incredible rarely accessible insight into what detention centers and incarcerated youth look like. While the quality of the footage both still and moving is quite beautiful, the images are chilling yet moving. At the same time, however, it is necessary to offer questions about space, audience, and power as they relate to this project.
By “space” I’m referring to the art galleries around the world that have hosted the traveling exhibition, displaying the project’s artifacts. I wonder about what we tend to associate with an “art gallery,” what assumptions we might make about who has access to these spaces? What kind of conversations are had in these spaces? Are the stark white walls and rather sterilized curation of the photographs meant to ironically mimic the environment of a detention center?
Closely tied to space, I think about how notions of “audience” relate to this project. Who is the target audience of this work? Who are the stakeholders? And which audiences have access to the spaces in which this work is shared?
And finally, “power.” It is always crucial to consider the inherent power dynamics that [tend to] exist between adults and young people, especially when the young people are already involved in a system that has rendered them completely powerless (in this case the juvenile justice system, specifically juvenile detention centers). Ross has documented and exposed this aspect of the juvenile justice system in an incredibly raw and unique way, and it is possible that drawing attention to this topic may result in a greater sense of accountability on the part of the justice system. Yet, we must also think about how Ross’ presence in the detention centers — his photographing, interviewing, etc. — may have been received not only by staff but by the young people. Where do we draw the line between voyeurism and educational justice?
I pose these questions not necessarily to elicit answers, but rather in attempts to encourage us all to remember, like John Dewey (1980), that “a work of art is not the object itself–the physical painting, sculpture or photograph…but what the work does ‘in and with human experience'” (cited by Hubard, 2013). Our lived experiences, the contexts within and lenses through which people may see and interact with these pieces are different and that is an important reality to keep in mind.
To the End of June: The Intimate Life of American Foster Care is the recently published book by Cris Beam that offers a layered, multi-faceted, and poignant exploration of New York City’s Foster Care System by focusing on the lives of the children and their families — both bio and foster — who are deeply affected by institutional and system-wide policies and practices. Beam writes based on her research — for this book, she spent five years interviewing and spending time with foster families — and from personal experience and positions the texts as an attempt to better understand why, despite the “more than a million adults [who] are directly or indirectly employed to ensure [foster children’s] well-being, and $15 to $20 billion a year [that] are poured into overseeing their health and management,” no one thinks the system is working. Beam’s book does not offer neat solutions. Instead, her rich descriptions and thoughtful prose offer different points of entry into the seemingly entrenched set of challenges that affect the people caught in the system at every level. Read the first chapter of the book here.
Arts, Media, and Justice: Multimodal Explorations with Youth is a volume edited by YMEJ member Lalitha Vasudevan and Tiffany DeJaynes and brings together a collection of chapters authored by practitioners and researchers who worked with youth in a variety of arts-based and media settings. Central to all of the chapters is an emphasis on how, through exploration with the arts and media, young people involved with the juvenile justice system may be engaged as agentive partners in reimagining education in their lives. Ranging from photography and theater to media making and creative writing, the contexts depicted in this volume hold important implications for educators, the field of youth development, and policy makers in how we might better support young people who find themselves embroiled court-involved — the thoughtful and illustrative writings of the authors suggests that rather than emphasizing punitive measures, we might create conditions in which exploration of self and world may occur in meaningful, collaborative, and potentially transformative ways.
(**All proceeds from book sales go to supporting the work of alternative to detention and alternative to incarceration programs in New York City. ***)
In the next few weeks, we’ll be rolling out digital publications produced by first group of YMEJ grad students, culminating in a digital anthology — all of the pieces were shared as part of an exhibition called “Let’s Start Something: Reframing Perspectives on Youth, Justice, and Education” and early this autumn we’ll publish the complete anthology online.
As a preview, here are a few pieces from the collection:
1. “anak ng new york” — by Alexandra Thomas
Click on panels to reveal more layers of information, context, facts, and resources
From the author:
Anak ng New York is a project designed to give alternate views on care and young people in the Foster Care System in New York City. “Anak ng” means “children of,” or colloquially, “son or daughter of” in Tagalog. The homepage of this website provides a single, and perhaps the most stark, view of foster care in NYC. There is a tick mark for each of the 13,000 young people currently in the system. However, behind each panel is another view. There are resources, narratives, poetry, and artwork, which exemplify the diverse and complicated ways in which we can understand foster care and the lives of the young people within the system.
1a. Click on the 4th panel on the 1st row for a compilation of responses from adults who work at various points along the foster care landscape in support and in service of foster youth: “Top Ten Questions And Answers for Future Involvement with Foster Care Youth” — produced by David Gajer.
2. Those Unspoken Truths — by Sonja Cherry-Paul and Ellen Chan
From the authors:
Those Unspoken Truths is a collaborative project that merges poetry and photography and explores ways youth would like to be known. We see the exploration of photography, the asking of the question “who am I?”, as well as the responses, as initial steps toward creating a platform for discussion and inquiry around the ways we come to know youth and the ways in which youth let themselves be known.
Last year, the broader public got an in-depth and disturbing glimpse into the actions and behaviors of the network of law enforcement individuals involved with enforcing Stop and Frisk practices in New York City when a young man named Alvin recorded what he described as one of the countless times he was stopped in the vicinity of his own neighborhood — his recording captures his second stop in the same day.
Ross Tuttle, a contributor to The Nation, expanded Alvin’s courageous and revealing audio into 13 minute short film called “The Hunted and the Hated: An Inside Look at the NYPD’s Stop-and-Frisk Policy” in which he surrounds Alvin’s audio recording with interviews of current and former NYPD officers, legal experts, and, perhaps most effecting, Alvin and other young people themselves for whom this is not merely a policy but an everyday fact of life.
Tuttle’s film opens with a general shot of a street in Harlem, and a few seconds later settles into this image in which he sets up the film:
This short film, innumerable personal accounts and protestation across a variety of media platforms of this policy, the ongoing battle between law enforcement brass who support this policy and the communities they serve (for whom safety is paramount, but whether this policy actually helps to achieve it remains questionable)… all of these factors have also been brought into the harsh light of everyday conversation with the ongoing trial that brings into direct question the NYPD’s commitment to stop and frisk as a way of policing.
Watch the full film here:
Just today, Judge Shira A. Scheindlin found that the city “adopted a policy of indirect racial profiling by targeting racially defined groups for stops based on local crime suspect data.”
The article in the NYTimes goes on to note:
Noting that the Supreme Court had long ago ruled that stop-and-frisks were constitutionally permissible under certain conditions, the judge stressed that she was “not ordering an end to the practice of stop-and-frisk. The purpose of the remedies addressed in this opinion is to ensure that the practice is carried out in a manner that protects the rights and liberties of all New Yorkers, while still providing much needed police protection.”
So where is the line of reconciliation? That is, where is the meeting ground between complete repeal of the policy and its continuation in its present state? This presumes of course that the desire on behalf of law enforcement is to protect communities from a persistent influx of weapons and violence, which is purportedly the intention behind what has become an increasingly polarizing law enforcement policy. Tuttle’s film and Alvin’s recording, however, make it difficult to believe that serving and protecting is at the root of the way that the policy is carried out everyday. Young people (too many of whom live their everyday lives under “suspicion” before the sun has even risen) and the communities in which they live shouldn’t exist in a constant state of fear.
This is the simple point poignantly presented by Kasiem Walters, a high school senior in Flatbush, Brooklyn, in another short film called, “Stop-and-Frisk: The High School Senior,” part of the #whereiamgoing campaign. What comes through most evocatively in Walters’ narrative is the psychic weight he and his friends carry with them constantly, being stopped, having his possessions tossed on the ground, his pockets searched by grown adults — he notes that one wouldn’t understand this if it happens one time or as an isolated but rationalizable experience. No, one needs to experience being stopped, questioned, violated, treated in dehumanizing ways 6, 7, 10, a dozen, more than twenty times. For Kasiem, this experience began at the age of 13.
I have seen this same weight press down hard on the shoulders of many of young people we work with through this project and the Reimagining Futures Project at local alternative to incarceration and detention programs. It is the weight of suspicion that saturates their interactions, how they move, who they speak with — these considerations and more are movingly brought to life in young Kasiem’s story. Watch him here:
Finally, read Linda Sankat, another NYC teen, detail her #stopandfrisk experience in a piece written for Youth Communication/YC Teen. In it, she wonders:
But what is “reasonable suspicion?” The NYPD has interpreted it broadly. CCR tallied the NYPD’s own records and found that 685,724 people were stopped in 2011—the vast majority of whom were black and Latino. Nearly nine out of 10 of those subjected to stop-and-frisk were not arrested.
Although Mayor Michael Bloomberg credits the policy with lowering crime and keeping guns off the streets, it has a detrimental effect on innocent people who feel targeted because of their race, class, religion, sexual orientation, gender, identity, or housing status. Critics say many stops are unlawful because they are too often based on stereotypes rather than real suspicion or evidence of wrongdoing.
Sankat also mentions young Alvin’s recording and offers some of her analysis of what he captured and what his recording sparked, not only amongst teens who know this experience all too well, but also among those for whom such practices remained largely hidden until recently. Just before concluding her piece with a call to arms to her fellow teens to speak out against this policy, Linda Sankat states plainly: “The job of the police should be to protect the public—not harass innocent people.”
What could be more true?
These are three of a vast sea of stories, encounters, and experience. Follow us on twitter (@YMediaJustice) where we’ll continue to share more young people’s stories in an effort to interrupt injustice and to educate beyond mere actions of agreement or disagreement. The issues wrapped up with #stopandfrisk are far too complicated for simple solutions. One step in the right direction, we believe, is to take the stories of youth seriously.
Follow @txtconnectNYC on Twitter — and read more about their work in engaging youth to report instances of #stopandfrisk
Follow #whereamigoing on Twitter
Learn more about the movement here: http://www.whereiamgoing.org/
Follow @changetheNYPD on Twitter
After a sweltering July, I took pleasure in the breezy feel of an unlikely August Sunday afternoon. I switched on the tv as background noise, but quickly became drawn into the stories being shared by two women as they sat and talked with the always astute Bill Moyers. The topic being discussed, among other things, was the film “A Place at the Table,” and Kristi Jacobson, one of the film’s directors and producers, and Mariana Chilton, director of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities, were Moyers’ guests. Their argument was relatively simple: hunger hurts everyone.
I found myself nodding along, but was unprepared for the footage they shared from the film, which also documents the efforts of Chilton and her Center against the backdrop of the federal funding cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). One loving mother eats a bologna sandwich in the kitchen after serving her two small children a portion of pasta each. She does not “look hungry” as the argument sometimes goes, says Chilton, who notes in a comment to Moyers after this scene is shown that the mother even hides her nutritional sacrifice from her children.
We have seen this narrative many times: parents who care deeply for their children, but who are still unable to provide the necessary basics. Where are they meant to turn? What supports exist for adults who are working full time, often more than one job, and whose wages keep them perpetually “food insecure” — the term used throughout the film to signal an all too common phenomenon: not knowing where one’s next meal is coming from.
Moyers’ guests talk policy, change, action, and urgency, and yet the parting words have to do with the struggle to get noticed by legislators for long enough of a period to actually effect change. Too mired in uninformed definitions of dependency and misguided notions of socialism are the political arguments that seem to surface any time issues of great urgency — and this includes hunger as well as shelter, safety, and wellbeing of children — are brought into the realm of legislation.
It’s enough to make one ask what else can be done at the local, community, neighborhood level. This is one of the reasons I appreciate the multi-tiered efforts of Chilton’s Center at Drexel University that seems to bring together families — who they are calling “Witnesses to Hunger” — with a shared focus on community-based projects, actions, research, and policy.
Here’s another link to PBS Newshour footage about the film, featuring clips and additional interviews:
And in case you were wondering… yes, this is where YMEJ is headed. And we are thrilled to have learned about the Center for Hunger-Free Communities as inspiration. Universities, too, can be part of the work and not only in the business of posing problems and solutions.
Link to Moyers’ broadcast – or watch the complete program here:
Click for more resources connected with hunger, nutrition, and poverty.
Look what we’re reading/watching this week:
- Race to Incarcerate: A Graphic Retelling — by Sabrina Jones and Marc Mauer: An update of Mauer’s popular text about the exponential growth of the prison industry and the criminal justice system.
- Le gamin au vélo (The kid with a bike): about a young boy whose father gives up his parental rights and who is taken into care by a local hairdresser; she becomes his family.
- The Arrival — by Shaun Tan: A stunning, wordless graphic novel about a man’s journey to a new a land, full of the emotion of being lost, found, mis-read, welcomed, and seeking and finding home.
The Global Action Project (G.A.P.) has a rich history of pursuing and advocating for effective social change through innovative uses of media. In preparing for Year 2 of our YMEJ Seminar, we found a collection of videos that G.A.P. has listed under the category of Educational Justice. Perfect, right? The videos (short flims, PSAs) address educational issues related to:
- undocumented students
- youths’ legal rights
- homophobia and violence
- the school to prison pipeline
This one in particular caught our eye:
This video questions why people leave school or fail to graduate. Rather than focusing on the more commonly held idea of “drop outs,” the video examines the trends of push-outs, and the many ways that young people feel discouraged by the educational system. Interviewing educational researchers, students, and each other, we try to present the stories behind the statistics. – See more at: http://global-action.org/video/set#sthash.9eM2qbfj.dpuf
Here are a couple of other online video repositories that include short films in a variety of formats that take up issues of social change and education in a wide embrace:
- The Media that Matters Film Festival — click here for the collection related to youth; explore the rest of the site for films on other topics including economic justice, gender, politics, and more.
- 3MinuteMedia – click for 3 years’ worth of short films under 3 minutes in length on topics such as the women’s revolution in Egypt, recycling, the arts in schools, and marriage equality. (There’s a call for entries out now for submissions for the 2013 festival.)