Photography For Solitary Prisoners
Isolation has proven harmful for the human psyche. Yet every year, tens of thousands of prisoners across the country are left alone for virtually every hour of the day in solitary confinement. While some may see it as a necessary remedy for what they consider to be dangerous felons, others say too often – the method is over-used and damaging.
Laurie Jo Reynolds is a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She has long been a prison reform activist and fought to get the Tamms Supermax Correctional Center in Illinois shut down, which it did in 2013. Reynolds says about solitary, “There’s no excuse, there’s no reason for anybody to need to be in this type of confinement. You can keep somebody secure without torturing them ... It really starts to break down people’s sense of person-hood." Reynolds says she has heard of severe cases where prisoners have mental breakdowns and harm themselves physically as a result of their isolation.
"You can keep somebody secure without torturing them ... It really starts to break down people's sense of person-hood." - Laurie Jo Reynolds
Reynolds helped start a project called, ‘Photo Requests From Solitary.’ Prisoners are allowed to request specific photos. Volunteer photographers set out to accomplish their requests. Reynolds says the project started in 2009 when a photographer offered to donate pictures for the men who stayed at Tamms. It was decided prisoners should be given photos they asked for. Reynolds says the goal was to, “Give (prisoners) some contact and give them something they wanted ... but importantly it would also help others and people who saw the project really think differently about solitary confinement.” Photo requests are often for family members or nature scenes. Vice magazine recently got involved with the project by having some of their own photographers process requests.
Reynolds has teamed up with Solitary Watch, a journalistic endeavor and watch-dog group for solitary confinement across the country. Jean Casella is the co-director. I spoke with both women for this interview.