Reading Observations- Service Learning

Our first and only reading for this semester was an insightful criticism on the inbred racism and prejudice within the curricula of stand service learning practices. What is worse, as the reading recognizes, even with prejudices baked into the core, instructors avoid talking of race-relations and racism’s impact on “urban” and “at risk” populations.

The reading outlines the steps to take to avoid letting white-centric ideals into service learning projects. As for what I plan to do when confronted with my own prejudices and/or the standard white prejudice that pervades service learning, I think our previous semester set me up to understand the more complex world that is our justice system. It is important, then, for me to remember to always check my assumptions and criticize where they stem from.

Interview and Photograph Plan

Uncle Victor Interview

  • Background Info – Birthday, Place of birth, etc
  • How did you get into working as a CO?
    • CO background info – prison name, location, position
  • Did anything in your personal history pave the way towards being a CO?
    • Military background
  • How did being a CO affect your home life?
    • Warden wife
    • relationship with rebellious children
  • How did being a CO affect your overall outlook?

Photography ideas

  • Shields, badges, memorabilia
  • Hands, tattoo
  • Face as he speaks
  • Shallow depth of field, mostly macro/up-close shots
    • Probably not a lot of work with different shutter speeds since I still can’t figure it out

Not all of this worked out as planned, as previously mentioned, with the interview taking place over Skype and my photography endeavor taking me to the prison (CNMCF) itself.

No Wrong, Just Write Case Study

As Jimmy Santiago Baca has shown us through his memoir and his life, living in prison can take a toll on your mind and morale. The act of writing poetry, or writing creatively in general, is an effective tool in fighting insanity, [figuratively] escaping confinement, and coming to terms with what you’ve done, where you are, or some combination of the two. In our time of mass incarceration, where not all those behind bars are there for violent offenses, writing had become a tool to express frustration with the system, with each other, and with themselves. The Albuquerque-based program NoWrong, JustWrite, is a non-profit organization that goes into prisons and youth detention centers to conduct poetry and writing workshops with those incarcerated there. The program was created and is facilitated by Albuquerque poet Carlos Contreras and artist and educator, Diahndra Grill.

JustWrite’s mission states:

“While focusing on underserved communities…and those who are incarcerated, JustWrite empowers, heals, enlightens, and engages the minds and hearts of multiple populations simultaneously. JustWrite fosters an ability to make better decisions and live more positively via a self-reflective process through creative expression” (x).

The organization’s vision emphasizes that the project attempts to show that “There is no wrong, JustWrite!” The project  aims to encourage people of all different communities to “just write.” A large portion of the organization’s efforts have been focused on those incarcerated in the Metro Detention Center (MDC).

As shown in the Summer 2014 installation Upon Release at 516 Arts, JustWrite’s workshops are often centered around a specific theme or prompt. The catalog for the exhibit “Heart of the City” (in which Upon Release was displayed) the project shows participtants in MDC confronting “the reality of what life is like transitioning between world of freedom and isolation both internally and externally when inmates are released in Downtown Albuquerque” (x pg 16). The Upon Release installation invited the public to “listen, watch, and respond” to the inmate authors and artists within MDC.

The JustWrite program’s website publishes some of the works created in their workshops in visual, audible, and/or textual form. The works (as previously mentioned) are largely organized by prompts and themes the participants wrote on. Some of the prompts include:

  • I Am…
  • Freedom Is…
  • This Time Around…
  • I’ve Become…
  • If Only…

With creative programs such as this one, it can be hard to say truly was the “results” were. The results of the program can’t be measured by quantitative methods. Instead, we can see the results of the program’s influence on its participants through the Reflections section of the website – which again include videos, audio, and text – based around the prompt “JustWrite is…”

An inmate at MDC mentioned by the name JJ, recites his reflection in a video where he states, “JustWrite is not always about being right. It’s about inspiration, helping us find a path that we can’t seem to find…” (x)

Another inmate, DW, wrote a recited a short piece saying:

“JustWrite is two people who gave us a chance. No matter what, no matter who we are. A right given back to me to express who I am. To find myself. To find my sanity. When this life I’m living is insanity. Privacy stripped from my freedom, as well as freedom stripped from my privacy.” (x)

A Georgetown University student and participant in JustWrite, NO, said that JustWrite is “not even a poem, but/a conversation with me, which I enjoy.” A fellow student claimed JustWrite is an opportunity to connect, share, grow, and learn.(x)

However, this program is not perfect and does have a few problems it needs to overcome. A major problem facing the organization is consistency and communication. The program intends to “build community” (x) but its website and social media pages are not frequently updated and any information regarding community involvement and volunteering is not available. In fact, the “Get Involved” page still says “Volunteer opportunities coming soon,” as it has said for the past 3 years. A comment from February 2013 on volunteering has also received no response. And emails to the JustWrite gmail go unanswered (based on mine and Megan Jacobs’s experiences).

Website navigation also poses an issue as links lead to empty pages and getting access to information involves trying to find the right page via following a labyrinth of cascading options, that disappear if your mouse strays even a millimeter away from the option. Some pages can only be reached this way as hyperlinks on some pages lead to pages that don’t exist and other pages don’t connect to the sections the menu advertises. For example, via following drop down menus, you can see there are 4 pages in connection to UNM participants. However, clicking on the UNM page alone will take you to a blank page with no links to the other pages. Similarly, the only way to access any of the writers, pieces, and information on JustWriteNM’s participants is through the drop down menus as the JustWriteNM page itself is blank.

For a program that intends to connect people it is largely inaccessible and/or incredibly frustrating to find any information. For those JustWrite visits, it appears to be a truly wonderful experience, but for those looking for information or wanting to get involved, it is unreachable. Even saying so, the program itself was largely created for the purpose of aiding people in tough situations to express themselves and just write. The ability to make themselves accessible is a project that can be saved for a later time.

Update: In attempt to add more hyperlinks to show the blank or missing pages on the site, I have been unable to find the page with the list of prompts with broken links. In fact I have been unable to find several areas of the site I had previously stumbled upon.

Photography Project Reflection

My experience completing this project was frustrating, and some times just plain uncomfortable. I interviewed my uncle about his time as a Corrections Officer and he seemed reluctant to share a lot of information to his young niece about what he saw.

A lot of questions were given general answers. Vague comments like “it was hard. I saw a lot of bad things.”littered my transcript. He didn’t want me to know what happened, and it seemed like he was trying to shield me from whatever he wasn’t saying.

At one point in our jumbled interview  my uncle told me about how he often kept his daily experiences to himself; not wanting to bother or disturb his family with what happened. He said they didn’t need to know the “dramatic” parts of his day. I think he was trying to keep those “dramatics” away from me too.

My photos didn’t quite come out the way I wanted either. I snapped photos of my uncle’s CO memorabilia — badges, photos, pins, etc. — but all the photos came out blurred and out of focus. I couldn’t get any good angles of the objects and no matter what I did, both with my camera and in post-editing, none of the pictures were working out how I hoped they would.

I had spent 30 minutes driving down to Belen to spend 8 minutes taking pictures that all turned out pretty terrible. I left my uncle’s feeling defeated and disappointed. I decided to drive down Main St., with Siri in my lap directing me to CNMCF the corrections facility my uncle formerly worked at. I pulled over at the edge of the ground, snapping pictures from the side of the road. A car drove by and I tried to hide my camera and pretend I was lost. I felt like a weird hooligan. I approached the front gate anyway, not expecting access but thinking I should YOLO it anyway.

When I was denied entry, I shrugged and left, deciding to drive the 30 minutes back home. I tried to work with the photos I had, smashing my head against my desk constantly as I edited.

But, I think the project turned out surprisingly well, considering how frustrating the entire process was.

Interview with my CO Uncle

I went into this interview with just a general set of questions to get the conversation going. I figured it would just be causal, just talking with my uncle about his work experience.

Of course, that didn’t work out. Since my Uncle lives about 45 minutes out of town and I had no free time to go visit, we had to conduct the interview over Facetime with plans to meet up in person later for photos. The interview barely lasted 20 minutes with half of those minutes being consumed in “can you hear me? You’re frozen. I think there’s something wrong with my service. Can you repeat that? What did you say?” I did get some really great quotes for the project but overall it was a largely ineffective and frustrating conversation. My plan of just asking about his job experience and letting the conversation take off from there didn’t always work because we’d be caught up in having to repeat ourselves and our questions, making the conversation very strained rather than being as familial and relaxed as I had hoped.

Reentry

Aside from the school-to-prison pipeline, there is another system in place keeping the under privileged at the mercy of the courts and prison businesses. As “Paying for Punishment” shows, the cost of prison falls onto the shoulders of the imprisoned and the cycle continues as those in debt face collectors and criminal charges or evasion. If there is no break in the cycle, is there any hope?

And the debt doesn’t end with just the costs of imprisonment and criminality. Once someone is released, they’re “debt to society” is still not paid. They have done their time, but the country still says they are not finished being punished. There is limited to no access to any resources on the outside, including jobs and housing. Aside from the “modern” idea of rehabilitation, if the traditional idea of incarceration is meant to be about punishment for a crime, why does the punishment continue outside the prison walls? They’ve done the crime, they’ve done the time, and now they have prison debt and no access to jobs?

Those who argue for this system might say it’s a “deterrent” or that if you don’t want to fall into this cycle don’t get mixed up in it in the first place. But if the cycle starts in schools, and if a large portion of the US population is caught up in it, is it really that effective? If we’re keeping the same people, the same population, behind bars for crimes we’re not punishing the other half of the population for (i.e. drug possession) then can we honestly say it’s a deterrent? Or is it just control of a population?

Mothers Behind Bars

There are those behind bars who should not be near their children, but those are only the women who have committed crimes against children. Women who love their children, who want to be with their children, and who want to take care of their children, should not have to let their children go. The personal narrative we read about the woman who didn’t even know she was pregnant until after she was incarcerated tore my heart. She was so hopeful, so excited, and everything crumbled beneath her and now her child isn’t even sure who she is. And what’s worse is the guard blame her, as if she chose to be pregnant in jail. It was a painful thing to read about a woman who loves and wants to hold her child and then everyone acts like she’s a selfish and terrible person.

That was the 1st part of the reading that really drew me in and angered me. The 2nd was reading about how the CIW thought the solution to the sexism in prisons was to bring in domestic education, so women can get back to their roots and away from criminal behavior. I was having trouble getting through the beginning of the readings because of how angry that made me. The thing I’ve never understood is how people can’t comprehend that you can recognize someone’s differences without completely stereotyping and going the opposite way. In hopes of explaining this better: I read a post about how Honey Lemon from Big Hero 6 was Latina and how a lot of people were upset that she wasn’t really portrayed as Latina. Immediately in response to that, some one said “what do you want her to wear a sombrero and drink tequila??” How do people not comprehend there is a middle path between stereotyping and ignoring? There was no indication that Honey Lemon was Latina other than how she says “Hiro” (slightly rolling the R. Which is also how you pronounce it in Japanese and it is a Japanese name) and that she understood a common phrase that is in Spanish.

It is the same with the women in prison. Why is it difficult to comprehend that women are different than men without going completely to the other end of the spectrum and being completely sexist and misogynistic?

Richard Ross Workshop

Richard Ross was a pleasure to have in class. He’s an amazing artistic presence and was just a wonderful and emotionally honest person.

For the photography portion, I was able to get some technical questions answered about how to work my camera. My best work in my personal photography has always been macro shots, but I have been struggling to focus on an object while also blurring the background. I knew I need to adjust the aperture but I could not figure out how to do that without losing the ability to focus in general. I was grateful for the technical instruction on how to adjust that on my camera.

But then I had another problem where I couldn’t work with shutter speed without the image being washed out with light. I still struggle with this particular skill but I now at least know what the cause is.

Now for the photos:_mg_3024_mg_3027

Since Macro is my preferred style I most proud of the above two shots, particularly the rock one. The berries one didn’t come out quite as I intended since the berries in focus were still lost in the matching blurred red.

_mg_3037

This was the only shot I took where I adjusted the shutter speed and it came out somewhat okay. Not the best, but definitely not the worst.

_mg_3044

Looking back through my photos I realized I didn’t take many wide shots. This one (which I’m pretty sure was just a shot for me to test out my camera) was one of two and the only one I mildly liked.

I also am an awful person and forgot to email Danielle her photos and lost her email address. The above four were the shots she took on my camera and I would still like her to receive credit even if I’m an awful person.

Perceptions and Questions for Richard Ross

Photography is powerful. A camera can manipulate an image to show you what the photographer sees, rather than just how the world views it. With Richard Ross’s work, he takes that manipulation of reality but instead manipulate’s our perceptions rather than just the visual itself.

Ross captures the visual as it is, neither manipulating the situation through posing, staging, creative lighting, or anything else. He shows us the world as it stands. He then adds the tales, the true stories, that show us the lives behind the pictures. Through those heart-wrenching stories, in combination with the dismal photographs, create a portrait of a world that defies our perceptions. We, as a society, imagine juvenile detention centers being full of hard criminals. Violent offenders with hearts of stone and whose paths to prison were crafted entirely by their own hand. Ross’s work shows us otherwise.

So my three questions for Richard Ross:

  1. How do you keep your distance from your subjects? Not in a physical sense, but how do you keep from creating an emotional attachment during such an emotional journey?
  2. In a personal sense, what were you hoping to gain from this experience?
  3. What are your personal goals for future projects, in relation to juvenile incarceration and otherwise? Do you feel you can move past this project,or is it something you will continue for the rest of your career?

Reflection of Graphic Design

infographic_baca3I’ve never been one for visual art that I have to make by hand. Photography, I can do. Photo and video editing, I can do. Drawing, designing, sculpting, or anything else along those lines, I’m am woefully inept at. I had immense difficulty with this project,especially since it basically required writing an essay through visuals. I am an English major, a writer, and my skills lie in the ability to string together well crafted sentences to build a coherent argument. Having to omit sentences to replace them with images was challenge, and I still don’t think I accomplished what I had set out to do.

And so I don’t believe that my information was properly transposed from an essay form to a visual argument. My data showed that there is a correlation between state mental hospitals closing and the increase in prison populations, but it also went on to explain the crime rates of the mentally ill, the importance of treatment, and offer solutions to fix the problem. Having to condense the information so that it could be portrayed visually I believe led to a great loss in information. However, it did offer a different way to look at data. The visual symbol of the road and the color red following the road and transforming the medical red cross on the first man’s head to the red of the handcuffs and the pie chart representing the percentage of incarcerated people with active mental illness symptoms. I felt these elements were the strengths of the infographic.

Overall, creating an infographic was surprisingly more difficult than writing an essay, and I doubt I’ll ever choose graphics over essays again. Even so, it was an interesting process to explore, even with it’s frustrations.