Mark Allen Johnson started shooting images in 2003. Since then, he has done photography for a stunning array of clients including Newsweek, Time, The New York Times, Marie Claire, The Economist, and VIBE. In addition he, like all photographers, pursues his own projects. It is one of those we’d like to speak of today: Pregnant in Prison.
On his website, Johnson gives the following description of the show:
With nearly four thousand inmates, Valley State Prison (VSP), located in Chowchilla, California is the world’s largest prison for women. At any given time, approximately 120 are pregnant on average each month. With over 340 babies born annually to female prisoners in VSP, only a handful of these children are able to avoid separation from their mothers. The State of California operates three mother-infant prisoner programs that allow those who qualify to live in a low level prison setting with their newborn if the duration of their sentence is less than six years. With as few as 75 beds in the program, prisoners are forced to give up their babies for adoption or foster care, or, in some cases, they give parental custody to friends or relatives. Since the majority of inmates come from poor backgrounds where friends and family members have also been incarcerated or involved in criminal activity, their children might be raised in the same environment as their lawbreaking parents.
This is sad, sad information to digest. Just imagine: 340 babies a year and only 75 beds in the mother-infant program. That leaves over three quarters of the incarcerated new mothers without an option. Things get worse from there. Johnson writes:
Unlike prisons for men, the VSP does not segregate their female inmates by level of crime committed, ultimately creating a dangerous atmosphere for the convicts. All levels of criminals — from petty thieves to murderers — are mixed together, including the inmates who are pregnant.
Take a moment to consider this. You’ve been picked up for some minor infraction, and immediately get thrown in the tank with a wide variety of violent offenders. It does not take much cognition to see how chaotic and dangerous this environment can be. Johnson continues:
‘At VSP you cannot show emotion, you cannot make friends easily, and you can never trust anyone. Being pregnant does not give you better treatment,’ a pregnant inmate complains. A common verbal threat towards pregnant inmates might be, ‘Your face isn’t pregnant, bitch, so I can punch you there!’
Johnson, as is standard with many photographers, keeps a tight reign on the use of his images. As a result, we cannot show you any here in this post. We do recommend visiting his website, the Pregnant in Prison gallery in particular, where you can see the images Johnson had created during his visit to the VSP.
Once more, the camera “sees” what is often invisible to a human eye. We are looking forward to Johnson’s next project!
Source: “Pregnant in Prison,” RelentlessPhoto.com
Image by miss_millions, used under its Creative Commons license.
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