I found myself being more impacted by Richard Ross’s work than our readings. Reading statistics and figures is banal as they lack depth. Yes, they can be scary, but reading ACE and percentages over and over tells me little to nothing. It was nice to read about my state working to improve the lives of at risk youth here at home, but there is nothing human in those paragraphs. Everything was summed up in a chart or graph.
But Ross’s work was different. You’d see the kids hunched over in cells, staring at the window, negotiating with their surroundings, but unlike other photography collections we’ve seen we get their stories. We don’t just learn what they did to get locked up but we learn about their family, their lives, how long they’ve been in the system. I felt my heart breaking when I read the testimony of C.B., which accompanied a photo of him looking out the window, his head awash with light. He says how when he wants to be somewhere else, he takes the car and drives; even if his feet barely reach the pedals and he can’t really read the signs. He is so young, so little, and so willing to do anything to escape his life. This boy is 11 and already serving time in prison.
The story of the youth in Ross’s photos give life to the statistics we had read. They told of their abuses and ACEs and showed me far more than the graphs and charts did. As with the visit to YDDC, it’s easy to hide behind statistics and to use them to create distance between yourself and the human aspect behind the numbers. Ross’s work broke down that numerical barrier and put their stories before us showing us what the Sentencing Commission study was trying to explain. It’s heartbreaking; as it should be.