The Sheila C. Johnson Center at Parson’s New School For Design in Manhattan recently opened an exhibit on the prison system of the United States titled States of Incarceration: A National Dialogue of Local Histories. More than just an exhibition on the formation and history of prisons and the treatment of inmates, it is also a dialogue between students from universities across the country and the conditions of prisons nearest them.
The exhibit is a compilation of research done by over 500 students from 20 universities from all across the country, including the New School, University of Miami, Vanderbilt University, the University of Minnesota, and University of California, Riverside on major the prisons geographically closest to each school and explored a deep-seated issue that arose from each prison.
Map of exhibit’s lines of inquiry
States of Incarceration is organized by questions represented on a series of large panels with each panel representing a school. The top part of the panel explains the facts, essentially answering the main question posed at the top, while the small panel at the bottom shares “Our Point of View,” a quick, concise rumination by the school on the details they uncovered.
University’s point of view on the topic with the results of their research to the right
These questions serve not only as the lines of inquiry of each school’s research topic, but it is also provides visitors with a deeper understanding of how the prison system in the United States started and while also addressing how little the system has changed today.
Vanderbilt University’s “Point of View” on Prison Profiteering in a Nuclear Shadow, “Why Do Rural Communities Become Prison Towns?
Combined with images, detailed graphs, and poignant notes from inmates both earlier in history to today, the exhibit aims to give its viewers a full picture of what it means to be in prison as across all demographics. Topics addressed range from colonialism, the death penalty, detainment of immigrants, slavery, legacy, and even architecture.
“Who Is the Death Penalty For?” by University of North Carolina at Greensboro
The topics posed in the form of a question is what allows the exhibit to be poignant and thought-provoking, including “What are women’s prisons for?”, “How have youth been criminalized?”, “Are prisons for punishment or rehabilitation?”, and “How do prisons reflect societal values?” For New Yorkers, the New School discusses Rikers Island, asking “How do you see Rikers Island?”
Interactive part of exhibit where visitors can contribute their thoughts on the prison system
Many people often forget that there are often prisons in or near the cities they live, think about how Rikers Island is hidden in plain sight in New York City. But even though they may be hidden, the rapidly increasing number of incarcerations is concerning, leaving residents feeling targeted by the law and law enforcement. The conditions which inmates also live in also gets forgotten with treatment that sees them as criminals to be punished, instead of as human beings who deserve the chance to live and be educated.
Where’s Rikers Island? It’s been on and off the NYC Subway Map for years
Exhibit explores life inside Rikers, like this group, the Elmo Hope Ensemble that created their own album
One of many large panels with thoughts on the prison system from inmates to police officers
States of Incarcerations questions everything you think you knew about the prison system. It asks you to look beyond stereotypes and question the policies the United States uses to incarcerate more of its people, including immigrants, than any other country in the world. The students who created this exhibit came together to ask how this happened, how and why there’s such intense conflict over how to fix this seemingly broken criminal justice system.
One of the photos featured on the Rikers Island section of the exhibit
By conferring with past challenges, examining their own local communities’ history, searching archives, sharing stories, taking relevant courses, and visiting correctional facilities, these students created what they call “a diverse genealogy of the incarceration generation.” Ultimately, it challenges us to remember the past that has shaped our country and use it to shape what comes next.
States of Incarcerations is currently open to the public for free, and it will run through until April 24th, 2016. Visit this highly intriguing exhibit at the corner of 13th Street and 5th Avenue.