Tag Archive for New Orleans

Justice Reinvestment in Louisiana

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, at campaign e...

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, at campaign event for presidential candidate John McCain in Kenner, Louisiana. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Something has to change in Louisiana, and if Bobby Jindal lives up to his latest press release it just might. It seems that some extensive changes may be coming to Louisiana’s justice system, particularly as pertains to juveniles.

First, for context, it should be established that my home state leads the planet in incarceration, with inmate populations doubling over the period between 1991 and 2012. Amnesty International reports the current number of incarcerated to be right around 40,500 which makes Louisiana’s incarceration rate the highest in the world.

An Amnesty International statement from 2008 spelled it out, and population numbers have done nothing but rise since then.

“…As of December 31, 2007, nearly 2.3 million persons were incarcerated in US prisons and jails, giving the United States the largest incarcerated population in the world. Within the US, Louisiana has the highest rate of incarceration, nearly five times that of the lowest state, Maine.”

State Governor Piyush “Bobby” Jindal has frequently come under fire for his aggressive privatization of Louisiana’s jails and prisons so it is surprising to see his latest stance on fixing a juvenile system that is rightly and frequently termed horrific. It is a stance that we here at HE espouse, and it is our hope that it gets implemented.

So, what changes are in the offing, and what response are they getting in Louisiana? The Advocate reports:

Several lawmakers, who often differ with Jindal, praised his proposals, including state Rep. Patricia Smith and state Sen. Sharon Broome, both Baton Rouge Democrats.

‘I want to thank the governor for putting treatment as a priority,’ Smith said.

Others who endorsed the changes included Debra DePrato, director at the Institute for Public Health and Justice at the LSU Health Sciences Center, and Dana Kaplan, executive director of the Juvenile Justice Project.

The plans will be included in bills submitted to the Legislature, which begins its regular session on April 8.

Jindal wants to:

  • Expand what he called Louisiana’s highly successful drug courts beyond the current 48 programs statewide.
  • Release certain non-sex, non-violent drug offenders into treatment rather than continued incarceration.
  • Revamp a state program that he said has strayed from its mission of aiding at-risk youths.

So, in an instance that I find shocking, Louisiana politicians are getting behind the right course despite differences in party affiliation. Blue Dogs, Dixiecrats, conservatives and liberals in this most contentious of states are unifying on this subject. As a native, trust me when I say that if it can happen here it can happen anywhere in the US.

The bills to enact these changes will hit the floor in early April, so it is a little early for cheering, but just the attempt is a major step forward. Louisiana is infamous for its draconian and primitive approach to incarceration, inspired by the gaols of the French no doubt. To see a more fact-based and rehabilitation-oriented mindset become part of the process is amazing.

The part of Jindal’s plan aimed directly at juvenile justice concerns a program called FINS – Families in Need of Services. Described as a “pre-delinquency intervention” program, it was originally designed to connect with services for at-risk youth in an attempt to keep them out of the court and prison system.

According to the Juvenile Justice Implementation System, more than 11,000 youngsters between the ages of 10 and 17 were referred to them in 2010. These referrals are made by parents, teachers or law enforcement and can be for anything from truancy or running away on one end of the spectrum to criminal behavior, drug, alcohol or firearm possession on the other. The fact that these referrals are often abused makes more sense when you know that the letter of the law includes being “ungovernable” as a valid reason for them.

NOLA.com reports.

 

‘FINS has strayed from its mission of addressing the root causes of non-delinquent behavior, instead advancing at-risk youth through the traditional court system and further into the juvenile justice system,’ the press release said. ‘The result has been a higher juvenile incarceration rate, not less criminal behavior.’

State Rep. Patricia Haynes Smith, D-Baton Rouge, said she was ‘pleased’ with the proposal, adding, ‘We have what we call a “cradle-to-prison-pipeline.” Trying to catch juveniles before they enter into the prison system is tantamount to being able to reduce the adult prison population.’

This is big. I don’t just say that as a New Orleans native either. If Louisiana politicians can come together across party lines to enact programs like that here, then there is hope for bipartisan collaboration in other areas of the country. As our own political class is slowly realizing, it is vastly more expensive to do nothing!

Enhanced by Zemanta

Saving the Secondary School: Diplomas Now

education

education (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

Susan recently told me I should look at a program called Diplomas Now which has been making great strides in education. Not fifteen minutes afterwards I heard a radio story about them and about the fantastic results they have brought to pass here in my city of New Orleans.

A little research later and I became a big fan. Take a moment and watch this video and you’ll understand why.

Diplomas Now: A Secondary School Turnaround Model from Diplomas Now on Vimeo.

So many of the shots in that video and the people in them are from my community here in NOLA. Like many natives of the city, I have always had a low opinion of our schools and state of education. After all we always seem to be fighting Mississippi for the very bottom spot when those statistics come out. My jaw dropped when I started looking into their results and found things like a 51% drop in violent incidents in NOLA classrooms.

Their work, which unifies and coordinates three separate non-profits, has produced solid results not only in my city but also in places like Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Chicago.

As we try to address the topic of juvenile justice education is indispensable. Many of the most effective programs for reintegrating kids into the community are based on skill training and education, and it’s importance prior to encounters with the justice system cannot be overstated. To see such positive results, particularly in “lost cause” schools like so many of the ones down here, is heartening.

Education provides kids the tools for success. It really is that simple.

Enhanced by Zemanta

One Less Good Influence – Aspiring Filmmaker Gunned Down in New Orleans

Notice: Today’s post is a bit more personal than most as it occurred just across town from me and involves people I know.

The story begins a year before Hurricane Katrina when Joshua Short was the subject of a critically acclaimed documentary about the relationship between political corruption, our failing schools, and the plague of youth gun violence that have been the pernicious back beat to life in New Orleans for much of it’s history. Let’s start with the trailer for Left Behind; be warned that the language is raw and unedited (containing at least one F-bomb and Not Safe For Work).

Hurricane Katrina arrived in mid-filming for the documentary, and to their credit the filmmakers, my old friend and colleague Jason Berry and Vincent Morelli, forged ahead giving an unprecedented view of our at-risk population when under historic levels of stress.

Joshua and his brother, two of the main subjects of the film were living together in an apartment, putting themselves through school, parents long gone from the equation, when it was in production. The young man was inspired with a love of the medium and has since worked for Berry on several occasions. This last Spring he assisted Berry in recording an outdoor Jimmy Buffet concert during the NCAA Men’s Final Four basketball championships.

He was bettering himself, trying to be one of the survivors to claw his way out out of the morass of poverty and disfunction that was his ecosystem. This year, at the age of 25, he had already become that “one good enough adult” that we talk about here on the blog: the one adult who can make a profound difference in the life of a child. He tutored disadvantaged youth in his neighborhood and taught them basketball.

As a matter of fact, according to his brother, he was visiting with one of his mentees when flying lead ended his life. Berry’s words on his blog, American Zombie, are far more eloquent than anything I could say on the subject:

Yesterday, this city…you, me….we are all responsible…took the life of one of its brightest.  Joshua was a young man that gave me, and the people in his life, hope.  In spite of the horrendous circumstances he was born into, he continually found a way to rise above it all and strived to make better himself and the people he loved.  The challenges he faced in his life, as a child, would make most adults crack but he somehow managed to rise above it all.  The world of sh*t this city threw at him from the cradle on didn’t harden him or destroy his soul like so many other kids in his circumstances.  His hope and kindness humbled me to the point where whenever I, as a 40 year-old adult, would begin to feel sorry for myself, I would think about what Joshua had been through and how ridiculously privileged my own life really is.  If he could remain optimistic, I have no business wallowing in self-pity.

Here is an excerpt from NOLA.com’s coverage, including more comments from Berry:

Authorities haven’t publicly discussed exactly what unfolded when Short was shot about 10:40 p.m. on Tuesday. Jonathan said his brother had gone to the Night Out Against Crime gathering to greet friends and visit the youth he was mentoring. Jonathan doesn’t believe the deadly gunfire was meant for either his twin or his friend.

Berry lamented that Joshua Short became the second student profiled in “Left Behind” to fall victim to shooting violence in New Orleans. The first, Mario Pleasant, survived when he was attacked in the middle of filming the documentary.

“For an act of violence like this to take Joshua’s life, it makes me very angry,” Berry said. “I’m fed up with it. The entire point of the documentary, for me, was (to show) the way we are treating our children is leading to this epidemic of violence. I don’t see it getting any better. I don’t see any changes being made.”

That is why everyone needs to develop an interest in these matters. While progress is being made in many places, it is hard to see any here in the Crescent City. This is a cautionary tale about the consequences of neglecting our children and their future. Berry’s documentary showed the complex interrelation between education, lack of opportunity, and juvenile crime in a visceral fashion. Six years later our inattention to those matters has claimed another victim.

Why is it vital to push for change? Because New Orleans is an example of just how bad it can become everywhere if we don’t. This has nothing to do with politics; it has to do with wasted futures and blood on our streets, lives cut short and public money wasted. If your stance is conservative, you should support this because it is the path of fiscal savings and responsibility. If you are liberal, then compassion for the children should guide you along the same path.

I’ve been back in New Orleans for just under a year now, and once more I have read the headlines to learn someone I know was shot in the streets. I completely understand Jason’s depression and fatigue; it often feels like we are treading water at best. Still, there is no way in good conscience to sit on the sidelines while this is the norm anywhere in the United States.

It really is more expensive to do nothing.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Hurricane Isaac: Suddenly Homeless

Today I would like to offer something a little more personal than my usual blog posts. After the “Hurricane Isaac Experience” I would really like to share my personal perspective.

Last week we had a spot of unpleasant weather down here on the Gulf Coast that took out almost 700,000 people’s power across Louisiana. Most of them, like myself, for five or six days. Some still remain in the dark as I write this.

Hurricane Isaac not only knocked out the lights, but also sat over the area more than three times as long as the average hurricane. That means a lot of water, and a lot of people in outlying areas seeing it in their homes. The truly eerie aspect of it for those of us down here was that the storm arrived on the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

How does this tie in with our usual topics? Easily. As the land washed away under the feet of Plaquemines and St. John the Baptist Parish residents the specter of homelessness and financial ruin became very real for much of our rural population. Thousands of residents from St. John the Baptist Parish alone became refugees, the status of their home and employment lost to view.

Make no mistake about it, homelessness looms. It is still to early to have any accurate data as the hard hit rural regions are only starting to be assessed, but the sheer volume of water has ensured that many lost everything. Just to the Southeast of New Orleans the town of Braithewaite is only now emerging from the muck.

So many of us teeter on the edge. As the recession drags on more and more families find themselves living paycheck to paycheck. The advent of a natural disaster – be it hurricane, earthquake, wildfire or something else – can suddenly leave a person both homeless and jobless.

According to the Katrina Pain Index , by Loyola professors Bill Quigley and Davida Finger, “Seventy percent more people are homeless in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina .”

In the wake of Isaac I fear we will see a similar spike in those numbers.

Special Report: An interview with Dana Kaplan of the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana

Today Humane Exposures brings you a special report from New Orleans, Louisiana. Today we interviewed Dana Kaplan, the executive director of the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana.

In a city with a history of poverty and violence the challenges facing those in the field of juvenile justice are massive but not, as you will see, insurmountable.
Humane Exposures- Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana: An Interview with Dana Kaplan by socialgumbo

About Executive Director Dana Kaplan

Since becoming the Executive Director in the fall of 2007, Dana Kaplan has been steadfast in her dedication to the reform of Louisiana’s juvenile justice system. Prior to joining JJPL, Dana Kaplan was a Soros Justice Fellow at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) in New York City, focused on detention reform. At CCR, Ms. Kaplan worked with community groups and government on developing alternatives to detention and downsizing local jails in states including Tennessee, California, Ohio, New Orleans, and New York. She was also the State-wide Organizer for the New York Campaign for Telephone Justice, a partnership between CCR and two prison family organizations that successfully reduced the cost of all phone calls from New York State prisons by fifty percent. Ms. Kaplan has also been on staff at the Brooklyn-based Prison Moratorium Project, where her efforts helped stop the construction of a youth prison in upstate New York and two youth jail expansions in New York City. She has consulted with national organizations including The National Resource Center on Prisons and Communities and the National Education Association (NEA), developing a curriculum for teachers on “Education not Incarceration”. Dana holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of California at Berkeley and was a recipient of the John Gardner Fellowship for Public Service.

About JJPL
When the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana (JJPL)  first opened our doors in 1997, our state was acknowledged to have one of the country’s worst systems to treat and prevent delinquency. In July of that year, the New York Times called Louisiana home to the “most troubled” juvenile public defender’s office in the country.1 That same month — after earlier reports in 1995 and 1996 by Human Rights Watch and the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) — the DOJ detailed brutal and inhumane conditions in Louisiana’s juvenile prisons, bringing international shame to the system. Louisiana’s juvenile justice system provided virtually no representation for children accused of crimes and then placed them in hyper-violent prisons where they regularly suffered bodily and emotional harm. The large majority of these children were African-American.

JJPL’s mission is to transform the juvenile justice system into one that builds on the strengths of young people, families and communities to ensure children are given the greatest opportunities to grow and thrive. We have three key program objectives to achieve this mission: to reduce the number of children in secure care and abolish unconstitutional conditions of confinement by improving or, when necessary, shutting down institutions that continue to inhumanely treat children; to expand evidence-based alternatives to incarceration and detention for youth; and to build the power of those most impacted by the juvenile justice system.

JJPL litigates on behalf of youth both locally and statewide. Additionally, we educate policy makers on the need for reform, coordinate with parents, youth and other concerned citizens to ensure their visibility and participation in the process, and actively implement media strategies to hold the state accountable for the treatment of its youth. By coordinating our diverse abilities in strategic campaigns to engage policy makers and organize community members and youth, JJPL continues to work on improving the lives of Louisiana’s most vulnerable children. In the past fourteen years of our existence, we have accomplished many achievements.

Crime In New Orleans: Reaping the Whirlwind

National Guard and NOPDOne reason I am as dedicated to this blog as I am is that I am from New Orleans. Since last Thursday we have had 197 murders here so far this year alone — last year’s tally was 175 or 51 murders per 100,000 residents. That’s 10 times the national average. Most of them committed by our inner city youth.

Crime here has always been extreme, but since Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures that followed it things have gotten so much worse. The real tragedy is that often both the victims and the perpetrators of these killings are the city’s youth. Poverty, low quality education, and many other factors have been entrenched here for close to 300 years, but there has been an added array of issues added to the mix in the post storm era.

USA Today‘s Rick Jervis takes a look:

Why has it been so difficult to staunch the killings, even with new leadership at the police department and the conviction of several officers involved in post-Katrina shootings of civilians? Katrina and the ensuing collapse of schools, home life and other support structures likely played a role, says Lance Hill, executive director of the New Orleans-based Southern Institute for Education and Research, who has tracked crime trends.

Children displaced by the floods returned with their families to a wrecked city, bounced from school to school and lacked mental health professionals to help them through the trauma, he says.

Six years later, many of those kids are under-educated, unemployed and seeping into trouble, Hill says. School expulsion rates also soared after Katrina, putting more kids on the street, he says.

‘The spike in violence we’re seeing …was in fact predicted by experts,’ Hill says. ‘Their warnings went unheeded.’

It is because of the Humane Exposures approach of rehabilitation and addressing the root causes of crime that I consider this blog important. All I have to do is look at the current local debate about whether to call in the National Guard because of the shootings to see the the results of neglecting these sources of anomie.

Over our first year back in New Orleans in the wake of the disaster my wife often commented on the fact that we had become a city without elders. Since grandparents are a culturally vital part of ours of any other community you can see the problem. Additionally, once  tightly knit family groups were scattered to the four winds, with many financially unable to effect a return even unto this day. While poor parenting skills are certainly a factor here, in many cases the parents have not returned to the city, but the kids have. In the meantime mental health resources have progressed from nonexistent to marginal over the years, and are not easily accessible for adults or children.

Education, mental health care, and substance abuse programs are all vital and effective alternatives to incarceration. They are also a good vaccination against the behaviors that lead to it. Right now New Orleans is buried in a crime wave spawned by a lack of all of these factors.

If you need a good argument a to why these tactics should be embraced just take a look at our murder rate here in the Crescent City. By the time you read this it may have passed the 200 mark.

Image Source: Loki, used by permission

Invisible People: Former Homeless Man Mobilizes YouTube

Looking for cansWe live in an amazing age, the age of information, which has a direct and palpable impact upon the issues we try to address. One great example is homelessness, a major focus of the works we produce. Not only is social media an excellent tool for educating the populace about the problem, but it can also give a voice to those who are experiencing it.

Mark Horvath is the premier example of this in action. A little more than 15 years ago, he was homeless himself. Then he stopped drinking alcohol and managed to pull himself out of it. Now he leverages social media to give a voice and a face to the homeless, particularly through YouTube on his channel, the InvisiblePeople.tv.

Christie Garton interviewed Horvath for her USA Today‘s “Kindness” column, after his second of the two cross-country road trips shooting video with the homeless (made possible by the Pepsi Refresh $50,000 grant and a car provided by the Ford Motor Co.).

Garton asked about the reasoning behind Horvath’s use of video in general and YouTube in particular:

Kindness: Why did you choose video as the medium for this message?

Horvath: Video changes the perceptions of homelessness. Non-profits traditionally only share success stories, and people end up detached from them. I wanted to show the truth. I also have a gift for video, and just felt like this was the right way to go even if I didn’t have the right hard drive or editing software. Who knew that so many people would want to watch videos about the homeless?

Kindness: Why did you choose YouTube as the platform?

Horvath: YouTube has a mobile application, which is great as 25% of our videos are being watched by phone. YouTube is also non-profit friendly, and has a partners program specifically for non-profits which allows you to raise money through donations and will feature your work on occasion. If fact, they featured us on the homepage for a day, and we surpassed 2 million views. It’s also a community with it’s own social network, which unfortunately, I haven’t had time to tap into.

Putting a face on the problem is vital, and it’s integral to our own efforts here (take a look at downTownUSA as an example). Here is the latest of Horvath’s videos, an interview with Kerry, Sabrina and Keifer taped in Dayton, Nevada. Horvath first met Kerry and his family months ago through Twitter (Kerry: @alleycat22469,  Sabrina: @bully_lover78, and 13 year-old Keifer: @keifer1122). On his blog, Horvath writes:

As I think about this family I get emotional. I cannot imagine raising a child in a small RV with no bathroom or running water. This family’s life is far from easy, but together they keep fighting, and together they stay grateful for the little things.

Being a native of New Orleans, I can understand the cramped-quarters aspect of their personal shelter. Five years after hurricane Katrina and the levee failure, and I still know families that are crammed into FEMA trailers about this size. While this family is lucky in that they are not actually sleeping on the streets, any thought that things are easy for them should be dismissed immediately.

I’d like to add our voice to Mr. Horvath’s call to action from this blog post:

If you know of anyone in or near Carson City, Nevada, that can help Kerry find a job please contact them. He wants to work. They will hopefully have housing soon, but the battle is far from over.

The fact that Horvath has been able to effect actual change through his efforts is heartening. Several people he has interviewed during his road trips now have roofs over their heads, or jobs, or both. Every one of those instances is a success.

Source: “Former homeless man using YouTube to give voice to homeless,” USA Today, 10/05/10
Image by Franco Folini, used under its Creative Commons license.

Visit Us on Facebook: Humane Exposures Publishing , downTownUSA, Maggots in My Sweet Potatoes, It’s More Expensive To Do Nothing

How To Become Homeless

HomelessAs we watch the economy spiral seemingly out of control, the specter of homelessness looms disturbingly close for people of all socioeconomic strata. Add in the chaos in the American housing market, and the picture becomes starkly unpleasant.

It’s a simple fact that we are seeing the number of the homeless grow, and it is disturbingly easy to end up on the streets. Right now, in Colorado, thousands face this possibility as the wildfires ravage the state. I know that feeling well from personal experience. You see, I am a native of New Orleans.

Just over five years ago, hurricane Katrina hit the city, and then the next morning the levees failed, flooding New Orleans. My wife and I had just emptied our savings account to pay for our wedding and honeymoon, and the checking account was low because it was a few days before payday. We ended up evacuating across the country with a total of about $200 and no vehicle.

With our friends, family and support network also scattered across the U.S., things became scary in very short order. Thanks to a few friends in other states we did not lack for a roof, but, as the weeks dragged on, the situation became more and more uneasy. I had a broken hand at the time, and so most earning opportunities were not viable. I was able to pick up a few bucks here and there, but nothing resembling enough income for a fresh start.

It was weeks before we had any inkling of whether we would be able to return to the city, much less whether anything we owned had survived. My then fiancee and I had a backpack of clothes each, a laptop, and our five cats. Things looked bleak.

“What about those legendary FEMA checks for $2,000 that everyone got?” you might ask. Not everyone got assistance, I know I sure didn’t. The Red Cross in New York helped us out with some clothes and a few hundred dollars. Let me tell you, you’ve never seen just how little $300 really is until it is all you have.

I will never forget having to swallow my pride and extend my hand for aid. We made it through thanks to the generosity of friends and strangers in Indiana and New York, but the awareness of the precipice was never absent from my thoughts. A few days before, everything was great: the wedding expenses were paid, I had a great new job, and we had just moved into a new apartment. Then, suddenly, it was all gone, taking all of my social resources with it.

We were very lucky. We made it back to NOLA six weeks after the disaster had struck — to find that most of our stuff had survived. It could easily have gone the other way, leaving us homeless. For many, it did.  I will never forget the fear in my heart during those times.

Just about anyone is susceptible to the whims of Mother Nature, and she can take the roof from over your head in a heartbeat. Whether it is the levee failures in NOLA, wildfires in Colorado, or some other species of disaster — it can happen to you.

Of course, due to my experience, this is what I think of first, but there are many other causes of homelessness. The Walk For The Homeless website enumerates a number of factors, including job loss:

As someone who has been homeless, I can tell you that loss of employment is one reason people, even whole families, become homeless. This is more likely to occur when there is only one wage earner in the family, if employment is seasonal such as construction or lawn maintenance, or if you both work and each earns only minimum wage. While there is usually a combination of reasons why people become homeless a particular one often stands out: illness.  Injury, sickness, and even mental illness can lead to being fired, laid off or replaced. Most of the time if you’re not able to do the work, you are out of a job. When you live from paycheck to paycheck, sometimes all it takes is to miss one or two paychecks and you can end up homeless. This is especially true if you have no friends or family to turn to for help.

Drawing on this information, Drea Knufken at Business Pundit boils things down into the Five Ways to Become Homeless, a list of things and situations that can leave you living on the streets. She also makes a very apt cultural observation:

Homelessness in the United States has always struck me as particularly painful. Penury is not well tolerated in the Land of Opportunity. People think money is easy to come by here, giving extreme poverty an especially powerful stigma.

In some countries, the homeless are seen as being cursed. In America, we do the cursing ourselves, labeling homeless people as lazy — one of Calvinistic capitalism’s direst sins.

The truth is that most homeless people know how to work hard.

This cultural perception is often borne out by observing the way that the majority of people treat the homeless when they encounter them on the streets. Not always, thankfully, but quite often.

Illness, job loss, foreclosure, or natural disaster — all can be harbingers of an upcoming life on the streets. It is worth remembering that these faces could be your own, and it would not take as much as you might think to end up there.

Source: “Why Do People Become Homeless?,” Walk For The Homeless
Source: “5 Ways to Become Homeless,” Business Pundit, 08/15/08
Image by Franco Folini, used under its Creative Commons license.

Visit Us on Facebook: Humane Exposures Publishing , downTownUSA, Maggots in My Sweet Potatoes, It’s More Expensive To Do Nothing

Photographer Deborah Luster: Doing Time in Louisiana

Deborah Luster - LCIW25, 1999 Silver Gelatin print on aluminumDeborah Luster has entered the world of rural Louisiana prisons with camera in hand, just like our own Susan Madden Lankford did, when shooting in California for her book, Maggots in my Sweet Potatoes: Women Doing Time. Luster’s work in Louisiana prisons was also collected in a book, titled One Big Self. (It has received Book of the Year Award from the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities.) While there are similarities between the two, Luster has started on this path due to a personal tragedy, as this excerpt from her bio on the Edelman Gallery website shows:

Murder is not generally a subject in which most artists find themselves immersed. But twelve years ago, Deborah Luster’s mother was murdered, sparking a photographic project which led her to three different state penitentiaries in Louisiana, her home state, as a means of healing and understanding. Photographing inmates against a black backdrop or in the fields, Luster captures the individuals housed behind the barbed wire and prison cells in a project called ‘One Big Self.’ Cutting 5 x 4″ aluminum and coating it with a liquid silver emulsion, Luster creates images which serve as reliquaries for these men and women whose cockiness, youth, bravado and shyness are embedded in these pocket-sized contemporary tintypes. Through these images she asks us to ‘see beyond their crimes… to suggest that our punitive models are as reflective of who we are as our reward system.’

That last sentence speaks volumes about the similarities between the two photographers. In their own ways, both have humanized the people who had been relegated to the limbo of mere statistics. The approach to their projects was quite a bit different though. Where Lankford’s book contains an array of personal narritives transcribed from her discussions with prisoners, Luster used a different approach. She also talked extensively with the prisoners she had photographed, but, rather than using the exact words of the inmates themselves, she had relied on a poet to create the text based on these interviews.

I first ran across Luster’s work at The Newcomb Art Gallery in New Orleans, and later at Prospect.1, also in New Orleans. Her method of presentation was fascinating, drawing on institutional themes to compliment the photos. The following video will give you a quick look at the Newcomb show, as Luster talks about her work and its presentation:

Since everything in Louisiana has a culinary angle, Luster has incorporated it into her work by photographing the kitchen staff at the Angola State Prison and the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women. The Kitchen Sisters at NPR have interviewed Luster for their Hidden Kitchens series, while also working on a feature for NPR about One Big Self. Both pieces are well worth a look.

Source: “After Mother’s Murder, Artist Photographs Prisoners,” NPR, The Kitchen Sisters, 08/09/10
Source: “Deborah Luster’s Hidden Kitchens,” KitchenSisters.org, 06/30/10
Image courtesy of Deborah Luster and Jack Shainman Gallery, NY.

Visit Us on Facebook: Humane Exposures Publishing , downTownUSA, Maggots in My Sweet Potatoes, It’s More Expensive To Do Nothing

Dr. Perry and The ChildTrauma Academy

CTA LogoQuestions of abuse and neglect are the tricky ones. Just like so many issues in life, they are vastly more complex than they seem at first. In the case of the children, whose bodies and brains are constantly developing, these complexities can span a broad array or disciplines.

Enter The ChildTrauma Academy and its Senior Fellow Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D. The Houston, TX-based CTA describes itself as a not-for-profit organization that is “working to improve the lives of high-risk children through direct service, research and education.” Dr. Perry is an internationally recognized authority on children in crisis.

As a native New Orleanian, I must admit to being quite partial to the work Dr. Perry has done in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The plight of our city’s children and the elderly was one quite evident to me from the start, and I think his work was important. This excerpt from Dr. Perry’s article, “The Real Crisis of Katrina,” applies not only to the child survivors of the Gulf Coast disasters, but also to children in general:

We know that traumatic experiences can result in a host of chronic, sometimes, life-long, problems. More than 35% of the children exposed to a single traumatic event will develop serious mental health problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). That is just the start, however. Children exposed to adverse experiences are at much greater risk for physical health problems throughout life; this includes heart disease, diabetes and hypertension. Traumatized children are at much greater risk for other emotional, social and mental health problems; and as these children grow into adults the risk follows them. Adults with childhood trauma have increased divorce rates, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, alcoholism, drug abuse and dependence, school failure, and unemployment among many other problems. These children have a much higher probability of requiring the services of our expensive public systems throughout life; special education, child protection, mental health, health and criminal justice.

That makes perfect sense to me. I am in my 40′s, and I have certainly experienced a deterioration in several aspects of my physical health in the five years since Katrina. I’ve also seen the widespread symptoms of PTSD firsthand after the flooding. One can only imagine the effects of these stresses on a developing child, especially when the adults around that child are experiencing similar privations.

Dr. Perry’s article continues with an important message of hope:

And we also know that when traumatized children receive appropriate services, they can heal. We know that if traumatized children can live in safe, consistent, relationally-rich, and nurturing homes and communities they heal. Indeed, traumatic experience can provide a wisdom and strength that is impossible to get any other way. Yet this healing takes place and wisdom grows only when the child is safe, secure and her emotional needs have been met.

Dr. Perry suggests we prioritize funding for children at the same level we do for other crucial infrastructure. After all, our children are the infrastructure of our future.

Dr. Perry can also be seen in our debut feature-length documentary, It’s More Expensive To Do Nothing by HUMANE EXPOSURES films. You can also follow The ChildTrauma Academy on Twitter.

Source: “The Real Crisis of Katrina,” The Zero, The Official Website of Andrew Vachss, 2006
Image: ChildTrauma Academy Logo, copyright retained; fair use: reporting

Visit Us on Facebook: Humane Exposures Publishing , downTownUSA, Maggots in My Sweet Potatoes, It’s More Expensive To Do Nothing