Wearing a black pinstripe suit, I strode into the cavernous waiting room of a maximum security prison to meet a new client. It was in the remote desert area of Ely, Nevada. The “cop-killer.” Edward. A 6’ 2” comely, Death Row inmate, he stood anxiously at attention beside one of the front cafeteria tables, anticipating my arrival. After pulling away from this stranger’s needy hug, I noticed his inscrutable blue eyes beaming through a flat affect. There he was, my innocent charge. The man I would represent for over twenty years.
Edward and three others faced the death penalty for the murder of a policeman. On the advice of trial counsel and without a plea agreement, Edward pleaded guilty to capital murder. Then, at his penalty hearing, his lawyer argued to the court that Edward was “a Judas Goat…who lured the victim, James Hoff to the scene of his death…[T]hese other boys were influenced and coerced and under the dominion and control of my client, [Edward]…” who “was yelling for his friends to stab Jim Hoff.”
An artist who spent twenty-five years working as a criminal lawyer, my work explores the reentry process of the formerly incarcerated -- their journey leaving prison behind and returning to a community. My series P2P, Prisoners to Paper dolls, is a compilation of oil portraits of ex-prisoners as if they were paper dolls and fabricated, wearable outfits. Archival criminal and personal documents, family photographs, and recorded historical transcriptions provide context.
*All photography courtesy of Jennifer Garza-Cuen.