Photo: Andrew Lichtenstein

Prison Is Where Families Go

If you look close enough at photographs from prisons you’ll see parents, grandparents, partners and kids as much as you will bars, cellblocks and razorwire

Even as a visitor
behind plate glass I brace
myself for cuffs.

…I want to stop & embrace
my brother, to hold him close
& pause to inhale the scent of prison,
to tell him what I smell, what I inhale,
is still the body of a man.

Rikers Island, via Google Earth.

“Though I rarely see it in photographs of prisons, each time I visit a correctional facility, I’m reminded that prison is a domestic place.”

The Hughes Unit in Gatesville, Texas, c. 2000. Photo: Andrew Lichtenstein

“Lichtenstein’s photograph […] feels to me like a kind of truth — that prisons remake families — but that is a truth nearly everyone within prisons has conspired to keep out of view.”

Visiting room portraiture

Cristina Garcia with her husband, Ricky Davis, on their wedding day at at Muskegon correctional facility Muskegon, Michigan, October 30, 2015. “We take photos at every visit,” said Garcia. “We can’t touch or hug each other during visit but we can when we take the pictures.”
“This picture was taken four days after my youngest son’s 9th birthday,” writes Stanley Jamel Bellamy. “Coming to see me was one of his birthday presents. He was so proud to have turned 9 years old, believing that he was now old enough for me to explain to him why I was in prison. . . I told him as much of the truth as I was willing to tell. Not that I was innocent, but that even though I was convicted of murder, I never killed anyone. It was the worst thing I could have told him.” Photo courtesy of Stanley Jamel Bellamy, Nikki Zeichner and Growing Up Through Pictures.
Stanley Jamel Bellamy with his sons on September 1, 2001. Photo courtesy of Stanley Jamel Bellamy, Nikki Zeichner and Growing Up Through Pictures.
“This picture was taken on February 25, 2006,” Bellamy writes. “It was a surprise visit — my mother, older brother, a female cousin (who I had last seen in 1985), and my oldest son came to visit me. Both my sons are fathers themselves now, which makes me a grandfather.” Photo courtesy of Stanley Jamel Bellamy, Nikki Zeichner and Growing Up Through Pictures.

Beyond the frame

“When a picture is all you have to keep a family together, you try your best to crop the pain from the frame.”

Cristian Garcia and Ricky Davis on their wedding day at Michigan’s Muskegon Correctional Facility Muskegon (left) and (right) the couple speaking through the security glass at a local jail just where he was held before being sent to prison.


Perspectives on Visual Storytelling

Everyday Incarceration

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Presenting current and archival images on Instagram that tell stories of 40 years of mass incarceration in the U.S. Curated by Zara Katz & Lisa Riordan Seville



Perspectives on Visual Storytelling