Wearing a pin-stripe suit, I strode into the cavernous waiting room of a maximum-security prison. It was in the remote desert area of Ely, Nevada for the meeting of a new client. 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 proceeded to tell the court that Edward was “a Judas Goat…who lured the victim, 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.”
97% of the incarcerated will be released. They will not return to equal housing. They will have lost their right to vote but they will have gained a myriad of health issues. In over forty states the formerly incarcerated will be billed for their public defender, charged room and board for incarceration, and will pay for electronic monitoring that they are ordered to use. Many employers outright ban them from employment; others make them reveal their felon status. Many also lack support systems or skills with which to reenter successfully.
They face major restrictions and demands that recreate a new form of imprisonment. Half-freedom unbounded to justice and equality places the formerly incarcerated on the conveyor belt ride of re-incarceration. This is not freedom; it is but a cruel hybrid. Convict to ex-convict to convict. And so it goes. This is what I document.
The interactive conceptual work elucidates the difficult lives of the formerly incarcerated. Inquire about availability.
*All photography courtesy of Jennifer Garza-Cuen.