Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Photography Artivizm and Solidarity with Supermax Prisoners.

Melvin Haywood, pictured above, spent eight years in solitary confinement at Tamms supermax until the Prisoner Review Board granted him parole from prison. Though the Department of Corrections held him in isolation for eight years, as a “C#,”one of the 270 Illinois prisoners floating in the system with indeterminate sentences, the notoriously tough parole board determined that he did not need to be in prison at all.
The Daily Beast and Creative Time Reports cover the inspiring story of arts activism and solidarity with supermax prisoners in solitary confinement.   The Tamms supermax prison in Illinois is one of the most notorious in the nation, condemned by Amnesty International for inhumane practices that led to high rates of attempted prisoner suicides and self mutilation.

In response, a group of artists known as the Tamms Poetry Committee came together to educate the public about the atrocities committed there and also to provide the prisoners with human connection and interaction in the form of poems and holiday cards.  One of the artists' initiatives was "photo requests from solitary."  Prisoners on solitary would request photos and professional photographers would then shoot the request and send the photo back.  The gallery of prisoners requests is surprising and poignant.

For “Photo Requests from Solitary” the men in Tamms were invited to request a photograph of anything in the world, real or imagined. The resulting requests were touching and often surprising. They included: the sacred mosque in Mecca, comic book heroes locked in epic battle, Egyptian artifacts, Tamms Year Ten volunteers and a brown and white horse rearing in weather cold enough to see his breath. Willie Sterling III asked for a photograph of a vigil at Bald Knob Cross on top of a hill in southern Illinois to pray for his deliverance from Tamms and to be granted parole. Tamms Year Ten caravanned down to the cross, held a litany of song and prayer and celebrated with a dinner. The next day, we drove family members to visit loved ones at the prison. Sterling was transferred from Tamms, and on July 27, 2012, he was paroled after 36 years in prison. Photo by Rachel Herman, May 6, 2011.

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