The Root Interviews Curators of Everyday Incarceration, an Instagram Project that Captures the Human Toll of Mass Incarceration

Keith Spike in the outdoor yard connected to his living quarters at Falkenburg Road Jail in Tampa, Fla. LOREN ELLIOTT/PRODUCED FOR THE TAMPA BAY TIMES
Keith Spike in the outdoor yard connected to his living quarters at Falkenburg Road Jail in Tampa, Fla.

Last week, President Barack Obama used his pardoning power to commute the sentences of 61 additional nonviolent drug offenders in an effort to at least moderately correct the insurmountable injustices delivered through America’s war on drugs. The war on drugs (and the mass incarceration that is its result) is heavily in the news because of President Obama’s pardons, a recently publicized claim by an aide of President Richard Nixon that the war on drugs was created to target blacks, and attempts by activists to hold presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton accountable for what many believe to be her role in the adoption of the $30 billion crime bill signed into law by her husband in 1994 when he was president. That crime bill—which, to be clear, Hillary Clinton supported and lobbied for—cemented the United States as the nation with the most prisoners in the entire world. 

For decades, stories of mass incarceration have been told through the rhetoric of statistics­—through numbers, mostly—but Zara Katz, a photo editor and visual producer, and reporter Lisa Riordan Seville have decided that it is past time to present more compelling (and more human) stories of prisoners, ex-prisoners and those who love them by curating a captivating visual storytelling project on Instagram (with an accompanying blog on Medium) called Everyday Incarceration.

The Root spoke with Katz and Seville via email to discuss their inspiration for Everyday Incarceration.

The Root: What made you decide to take on Everyday Incarceration as a visual storytelling project?

Lisa Riordan Seville: It was an experiment in curation and collaboration. I’m a reporter and have worked on criminal-justice issues for several years. Zara is a photo editor and therefore consumes most of her news through pictures. As criminal-justice reform became a topic of debate, Zara and I wondered what would happen if we tried to look at the legacy of mass incarceration through pictures.

Zara Katz: So often in journalism and media, the narrative is decided before the content is produced. Going into this experiment with only the question, “What does the legacy of mass incarceration look like?” has revealed a narrative that is not talked about as often: How does one live on the outside after experiencing correctional control; what happens to a community that has had three generations cycle through the system; what is the experience of those people, mainly women, who support loved ones who are locked up?

TR: Why Instagram? Why this kind of micro photojournalism?

ZK: The choice of Instagram was in part utilitarian. It’s a social media platform based on pictures. It’s also harder to reshare pictures without the captions and credit, something we were concerned about on other platforms. We also thought photos like those we feature might stand out on this platform because it’s not, in most feeds, the average fare. One unexpected outcome of using Instagram as our platform has been the connections with individuals and groups that have had direct experience with incarceration.

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Source: The Root | JOSIE PICKENS