Justice Through a New Lens
They say a picture says 1000 words, but what about when a picture leaves you speechless? This week, American University hosted Richard Ross’ photo Exhibit “Justice through a New Lens: Reframing Youth Incarceration through Art.” Throughout the halls of American University’s Public Affairs Department, striking photos filled the walls. Beside each photo was a brief description which only made these images more personal. On the first floor, photographs of youth incarcerated filled the halls. The photo exhibition was a mix of incarcerated youth and adults in their 60s, 70s, and even 80s who were sentenced as juveniles. Children as young as 11 were featured.
Richard Ross’ theme for the night was art and activism. Ross allows his audience to enter into the reality of juvenile justice around the country. His work sheds light on the sad truth of how America places and treats juveniles in the criminal justice system. The injustice of the juvenile justice system speaks volumes in his photographs of incarcerated youth. Exemplifying the statistics that 1,000 youth sleep in adult prisons per night and that 4,000 sleep in adult jails per night, Ross’ exhibit provides a face to each one of those numbers. In fact, more than just a face, but a child.
The stories on the wall next to the photographs were equally as moving. Donald Frank, 65, could not remember the last time he had a visitor since his mother last visited in 1983.
Another heart-wrenching display read: “I have been here 44 years after being involved in a strong arm robbery. The last time anyone visited me was six years ago. Now I am facing death in one of two ways: The Death House, or South Union Prison Cemetery. I am here for the rest of my life. I understand when you punish a kid for doing something wrong. I understand when that happens and accept that...but at some point you have to stop spankin that kid. It becomes abuse if you do it too much. I am 67 years old. How much are you going to spank me? - Dwight Bryant.
Ross humanizes the victims of the juvenile justice system, and easily persuades his audience to become an advocate for the children represented in his exhibit. When speaking during the event, Ross expressed how after starting this photo series on juvenile justice, he realized he was the only conduit for these youth to have a face and a voice outside the walls of their cell. He went on to say that this photo series became more of a “calling” than just a project Ross had taken on.
Local justice organizations joined CFYJ to share their work with the 200+ attendees. This included Freeminds Book Club & Flikshop, an app that connects families and friends to their incarcerated loved ones. Other speakers included: Kim Ball, Justice Programs Office Director; Zoe Root, Justice Programs office Senior Policy Council; Phil, a formerly incarcerated youth, from Free Minds Book Club; Eduardo Ferrer, Georgetown Juvenile Justice Initiative. Along with CFYJ’s CEO Marcy Mistrett who answered the question everyone wanted to know: how to engage in JJ Reform.
- Get involved in justice organizations & get proximate to the issue.
- Call your local representatives
- Use social media to share stories and elevate the issue. Twitter has become a very effective advocacy tool.
For more of Richard Ross’ work visit: https://www.juvenile-in-justice.com
For more updates of JJ Reform and how you can advocate stay tuned to CFYJ media platforms.