Mass incarceration in America is one of the most jarring issues still gravely under-acknowledged in our mainstream quest for 'freedom and justice for all.' Privatized prisons collect monetary gain from filling jail cells at the expense of flesh and blood women and men. As many know, this affects African Americans disproportionately, with 2.3 million people filling American jails and 37% of them being Black.
Unfortunately, Black men suffer from this specifically, are jailed at a disproportionately higher rate than their White counterparts. Currently, 1 in every 15 African American men is incarcerated in comparison to 1 in every 106 white men. 1 in 15. The extent of the damage this places on the Black community is somewhat impossible to illustrate, as the domino effect trickles down to literally every person in the incarcerated person's life.
To visually discuss the emotional, mental and physical turmoil this places on affected communities, models Remington Alexander (@reaxla) and Erwing Alouidor (@je_lated) teamed with photographer Zarita Zevallos to create Pariah, a photo series exploring the aftermath and effects of mass incarceration on Black men. Zarita explains to Konbini:
"Pariah tells the story of oppressed men and women of color, shackled under a government still seeking to control or destroy them. Minor offenses result in life sentences, forever branding the convicted as criminals, even upon release."
That reality is what I am exposing through my artwork. Our models convey the emotions of prisoners through their body language; the wires pierced deep into their bodies represent the cages those prisoners will never escape."
Currently, there are roughly 80,000 people in solitary confinement around the United States. Not surprisingly, the majority of them are men of African American descent. Somehow, this cruel and inhumane treatment has become cloaked as a form of rehabilitation when in reality, we're imposing mental and emotional debilitation predominantly on one community within America with a long history of being shackled and held in distress.
"To quote Angela Davis' Are Prisons Obsolete? 'Incarceration is the reincarnation of slavery'. It’s a continued celebration of the Willie Lynch method which explained how to mentally dominate black men; keep a slave a slave.
This is what prison is right now in the United States. You bring them up in this system that will never benefit them.
Why are there more black males in prison than any other race? Why does the black male get harsher punishment than a white male? We speak of abolished slavery, but it’s very much alive today and it’s under the re-embodiment of incarceration.
Understand that prisons were never about ‘correcting one’s behavior’ but quite the opposite, and to make money.
"Anger," this is what Zarita hopes her images infuse in audiences, anger channeled at a "system built to limit us, destroy us and take advantage of the oppressed all for political and economic gain."
In her quest to best understand the topic at hand, Zarita spoke at length with a formerly incarcerated man named Henry Perez. She explains the most poignant thing she learned from speaking with him about his time in jail and solitary confinement was "prison's ability to truly strip away the humanity of a man." Henry tells Zarita:
"Anything you do, you feel restrained due to your record. They take our past and our present."
On top of the emotional and mental belittlement involved with being tied up in the prison industrial complex are the complexities of getting back on your feet after extended periods of no financial gains. Currently, the average minimum daily wages of incarcerated people is 86 cents, down from 93 cents in 2001. For Henry, he was paid just 15 cents a day.
"Finally after 3 years I got a job. 10 dollars here, 20 dollars there. Per day in prison you get paid 15 cents for hard labor and some get paid 15 dollars a month."
How can we reconcile with years of economic and emotional distress placed on the individuals and families of incarcerated people? How can we move beyond the stressful topic while still living within the height of mass incarceration?
These are questions all who feel a sense of desire to change this system, struggle with. "I know that my voice cannot break the system but the way I express myself may touch one person enough so that they’ll learn about it, make the correlation and realize that this is messed up. Maybe someone will express themselves by using another form of art which will provoke a chain reaction. It’s all hope, and hope is a powerful drug."