Preview Edition: Fall 2023 issue of ZEKE Magazine

The Incarceration Issue. Guest-edited by Christopher Blackwell. Featuring seven photo essays on incarceration in the U.S. Other content includes "Incarceration of a Nation" by Christopher Blackwell, interview with Jamel Shabazz, book reviews, and more.

The Incarceration Issue. Guest-edited by Christopher Blackwell. Featuring seven photo essays on incarceration in the U.S. Other content includes "Incarceration of a Nation" by Christopher Blackwell, interview with Jamel Shabazz, book reviews, and more.


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Published by Social Documentary Network

FALL 2023 VOL.9/NO.2 $15 US


The Incarceration Issue

FALL 2023 VOL.9/ NO.2

$15 US

The Incarceration Issue

Photo by Brian Frank from What My Daughter

Learns of the Sea

Photo by Sara Bennett from Life After Life in


Photo by Peter Merts from Quests for Authenticity

Photo by Michele Zousmer from Absence of



Women in Las Calinas Detention and Reentry Facility

By Brian Frank


The Bedroom Project

By Sara Bennett


Artists in California Prisons

By Peter Merts


By Katherin Hervey and Massimo Bardetti


25 Years Later

By Howard Zehr


By Michele Zousmer


Portraits From Death Row

By Lou Jones

26 | Incarceration of a Nation

By Christopher Blackwell

58 | Open Eyes Within Hidden Places

By April Harris

62 | Interview With Jamel Shabazz

By Ryan M. Moser

66 | Book Reviews

On the Cover:

Photograph by

Michele Zousmer

Las Colinas Rehabilitation

and Detention and

Reentry Facility for women

Photo by Lou Jones from Final Exposure



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Published by Social Documentary Network

Dear ZEKE Readers:

I am so excited to have been offered the role of guest editor for this

special edition of ZEKE magazine dedicated to one of the biggest issues

we face as a country — mass incarceration. Many of you may not think

often of the carceral system, believing it has minimal impact upon your

life. But in reality a third of all Americans are in some way connected to

the carceral system.

We’ve been led to believe that we need prisons and jails to keep us

safe. That without them our communities will suffer. But our communities

are suffering because of them — especially impoverished communities,

mostly filled with Black and Brown people. These communities have been

stripped of countless members to feed the machine of the prison industrial

complex. A system that harvests our children as they are locked up at

ages as early as 10 years old!

For prisons and jails to truly keep us safe, the individuals that enter the

system would need to be receiving proper support and treatment for what

led them to prison in the first place. That way when people are released,

they can be contributing members of society. Yet, rehabilitation has long

been an afterthought inside majority of the prisons across America.

Today, many prisoners are simply being warehoused and abused

through disciplinary measures such as solitary confinement and then

dumped back into our communities with little or no resources. Leading

them right back to the only thing they know —- a life of crime and

violence so they can survive.

We must demand more. We can reconstruct the system to reshape

people. We can offer people a hand to rebuild their lives and a way

to process their traumas and hardships rather than punishment and

ostracizing them from being a member of our communities.

Often the people who fill our jails and prisons are only there because

of the traumatic experiences they’ve been forced to endure throughout

their whole lives, or the lack of investment and opportunity offered to

them. We must fix that by building the commUNITY we want to live in,

one that’s constructed from love and unity; not hate, abuse, and division.

This issue of ZEKE will offer you a view into the lives of those impacted

by the carceral system. Through testimony and imagery, you’ll be given

a deep look into the lives of those most impacted. The photos will display

the rawness of those suffering and will hopefully inspire you to fight

against this draconian structure.

We are in this fight together, so let’s educate ourselves to understand

the harms we are causing through the use of jails and prisons, and let’s

demand better!

Christopher Blackwell

Guest Editor

A little over three months ago, while looking

for someone knowledgeable about the criminal

justice system in the U.S. to be guest editor for

this issue, I saw an opinion piece in the New

York Times by Christopher Blackwell titled, “Two

Decades of Prison Did Not Prepare Me for the

Horrors of County Jail.” His bio said that he is

an incarcerated writer and a co-founder of the

nonprofit Look2Justice. I immediately shot off

an email to Look2Justice to see if they could

recommend someone. To my surprise, two

days later I received an email from Chris from

prison saying he was interested. Thus began an

enduring working relationship, friendship, and

education on the topic of this issue of ZEKE.

More than 100 emails and a dozen phone

calls later (Zoom is not an option), I am so thrilled

to present this special issue of ZEKE Magazine. I

am truly indebted to Chris and the many writers

and prisoner advocates whom he introduced me

to. In addition to Chris’s essay “Incarceration of

a Nation,” do not miss the extraordinary piece

by April Harris “Open Eyes Within Hidden

Places” about her own indignities experienced

while currently incarcerated. In addition there are

seven deeply moving photo essays, an interview

with Jamel Shabazz, and book reviews. I also

want to thank three people whose names do not

appear anywhere else since they are not writers,

photographers, or editors but were invaluable

in facilitating communications with incarcerated

writers—April Nonko, Robert Jensen, and

Jessica Schulberg.

Before closing, I want to inform our readers

of the redesigned ZEKE website (www.

zekemagazine.com). We are finally recognizing

that we have very important content to share and

we want to make it more accessible by creating

a full web version of what you see in the print


Glenn Ruga

Executive Editor

ZEKE FALL 2023/ 1

What My Daughter

Learns of the Sea

Women in Las Calinas Detention and Reentry Facility

by Brian Frank

What My Daughter Learns of The

Sea is a look behind the walls of

the Las Colinas women’s jail in

San Diego, CA.

Las Colinas’ approach to

gender-specific incarceration is

considered revolutionary, with its expansion

of an honors program that allows women

more freedoms inside its walls and access to

a wide range of job training, in addition to

physical and mental health programming.

Trauma is the common denominator

underlying the life experience of the vast

majority of female inmates. More than half

of female prisoners are survivors of physical

or sexual violence with 73% of female

state inmates and 61% of female federal

inmates suffering mental health problems.

Much of the honor programs at Las Calinas

attempts to address these issues.

However, in the criminal justice system

in general, women are often ranked at a

higher security level than necessary due to

a classification system based on their male

counterparts. Although Las Colinas is on

the forefront of a gender-specific progressive

response towards women’s incarceration,

these dated classification systems, as

well as staffing and budget constraints,

keep most women at the jail under a more

traditional type of lockdown, something

that many at the prison, both inmates and

staff, would like to change.

2 / ZEKE FALL 2023

Pamela Hernandez and

Kathleen Salinas sit together in

the exercise yard of their highlevel

cell block at Las Colinas

correctional facility in San

Diego, CA.

ZEKE FALL 2023/ 3

Women at the Las

Colinas correctional

facility take a break from

sewing prison uniforms to

watch Downton Abbey.

4 / ZEKE FALL 2023

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ZEKE FALL 2023/ 5

Women at the Las Colinas correctional

facility sing together while

folding the prison’s laundry. Having

a laundry room job is considered a

privilege, reserved for detainees who

have demonstrated good behavior.

6 / ZEKE FALL 2023

ZEKE FALL 2023/ 7

8 / ZEKE FALL 2023



The Bedroom Project

by Sara Bennett


or nine years, Sara Bennett

photographed formerly

incarcerated women in their

bedrooms. All were convicted of

serious crimes — mostly homicide

— and spent 14 to 37 years in

a maximum-security prison. By the time

they came up for parole they were all

profoundly changed, yet most of them

were repeatedly denied release because

of the crimes they had committed

decades earlier

“These women were open and trusting

enough to allow me into their most

private spaces — their bedrooms — and

to share the handwritten comments that

accompany the photos. Like me, they

hope this work will shed light on the

pointlessness of extremely long sentences

and arbitrary parole denials, and thus

help their friends still in prison: women

(and men) like them who deserve a

chance at freedom.”

Karen: 69, in a homeless shelter four weeks

after her release. East Village, NY (2017)

Sentence: 25 years to life

Served: 35 years

Released: April 2017

“When I made parole plans, I thought I was

going to have a good re-entry situation in

the house I paroled to. I realized almost

immediately that it wouldn’t work out, so I

left, without anywhere else to go.

“Parole sent me to a homeless assessment

shelter in the south Bronx. The quality of the

bedding and the food was a lateral move

from prison . But factoring in my freedom,

there’s no question that it was an improvement.

“Now, I’m in a shelter run by the

Women’s Prison Association. I feel safe and

secure. The room is spare, with not much in

it, but it’s mine.

“In this room, I find comfort, privacy,

safety, and peace of mind.”

ZEKE Fall 2023/ 9

10 / ZEKE FALL 2023

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Tracy: 51, in her own apartment

three-and a half years

after her release. Jamaica, NY


Sentence: 22 years to life

Served: 24 years

Released: February 2014

“I imagined coming home,

living in a one- or two-bedroom

apartment, where one was a

master and an extra room for

guests. Here I have that. I call

this room my ‘doll house,’ my

safe haven. I feel at peace.

I’ve finally unpacked. I spend a

lot of time in here. I take pride

in everything. I put more into

this room than into the kitchen.

I know I need to eat, but my

room is my nutrition.”

ZEKE FALL 2023/ 11

By Christopher Blackwell


The United States has the highest

rate of incarceration in the world,

imprisoning 664 per 100,000

people. On any given day in the

U.S., we imprison an estimated 1.9

million people and each year spend

an estimated $182 billion on the

criminal legal system.

Christopher Blackwell is an

award-winning journalist currently

incarcerated at the Washington

Corrections Center, Shelton, WA. He

is serving a 45-year prison sentence

for taking another human’s life

during a drug robbery—something

he takes full accountability for.

He was raised in a mixed Native

American/white family in the Hilltop

Area of Tacoma, Washington, one

of the roughest places to live in the

country– ravaged by over-policing,

gangs, violence, and drugs.


was 12 years old the first

time I was incarcerated. This

wasn’t uncommon where I

grew up, in the impoverished

and overpoliced Hilltop area

of Tacoma, Washington. One

day in 1993, a cop frisked

my friend and I while we

were on our way home from

school. I had a small amount

of marijuana in my sock — but enough

to change my life forever. The cop

found the weed in my backpack and

my school books were replaced with

handcuffs. I was hauled off to juvenile

detention, the beginning of my long

journey through the carceral system.

Thirty years later, I’ve still been unable

to free myself from its grasp.

This is the system we have created

in America, one that targets the poor to

feed the monster of mass incarceration.

It is a system sustained by fear and

misconceptions that crime is, somehow,

always on the rise and that we

must take action to keep our communities

safe. This narrative is reinforced

daily, from TV shows like Law and

Order to breathless news coverage of

crime, which often lacks context about

broader trends or the specific circumstances

that led to a particular crime.

The only solution, we are told, is to

incarcerate more and more people for

longer and longer periods of time.

In reality, the “overall crime rates

remain near historic lows,” the Prison

Policy Initiative wrote in a recent report.

Even during a spike in homicides in

2020, which is now declining, homicide

rates remained far below their

peak in the 1980s and 1990s. “What

has actually changed the most is the

public’s perception of crime,which is

driven less by first-hand experience

than by the false claims of reform

opponents,” the report continued, citing

public polling data.

Politicians responded by using the

violent crime spike in the 1980s and

90s to justify a tough-on-crime crackdown.

They spread the racist myth that

the country would be overwhelmed by

a wave of “super-predator” youth —

mostly used to refer to Black and Brown

boys — who would kill for no reason

at all. In this climate of fear, voters

and lawmakers throughout the country

12 / ZEKE Fall 2023

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dramatically increased prison sentences

and worked to oust from office those

who didn’t fall in line.

In my home state of Washington,

voters passed Initiative 593, commonly

referred to as “Three Strikes,” mandating

life without parole sentences for

people convicted three times of certain

crimes. Until recent legislative reform,

hundreds of people were struck out,

serving life without parole sentences for

second degree robbery offenses, which

can include stealing food from a grocery

store. For some, their “strikes” date back

to cases from when they were kids,

waived into adult court. Some even had

crimes committed under the age of 18

used against them to get stuck out, often

because they refused a plea deal for

decades in prison by prosecutors.

Disproportionate Harm

Just two years after three strikes,

Washington imposed weapons

enhancements under a bill called the

Hard Time for Armed Crime Act of

1995, resulting in longer prison sentences.

Despite the promise that these

harsh laws would reduce crime, there

is no evidence that occurred. Rather,

crime rates were already declining

nationwide, both in states with similar

laws and those without. Meanwhile,

prison populations exploded. In

Washington, the state’s prison population

nearly tripled from about 9,800

people in state prisons and jails in

1983 to 26,913 by 2015, according

to the Vera Institute. The expansion of

life without parole sentences has created

a ballooning aging population,

at great cost to the state. In 2001, the

Sentencing Commission found that

elderly prisoners cost more than four

times as much to imprison as the average

prisoner — a finding the commission

found “even more troubling” given

how rarely the elderly recidivate.

Today, the United States has the

highest rate of incarceration in the

world, imprisoning 664 per 100,000

On the yard. San Quentin Prison. Photograph by Katherin Hervey from The Prison Within.

people. For reference, Canada imprisons

just 104 per 100,000 people. On

any given day in the U.S., we imprison

an estimated 1.9 million people (1.26

million in state and federal prisons

and about 514,000 in local jails). The

U.S. spends an estimated $182 billion

on the criminal legal system per year,

including $81 billion for prisons, jails,

probation and parole.

Over the past 50 years, the state

and federal prison population has

grown by a staggering 700%. It is

clear that impoverished communities of

color are disproportionately harmed by

increased incarceration. Although Black

people make up 38% of the prison

and jail population, they represent only

12% of the U.S. population.

“Incarceration is a traumatizing

experience both for those who are

locked up and for those who love

them,” Melissa R Lee, the assistant

director of the Fred T. Korematsu Center

for Law and Equality wrote in an email.

It “deprives loved ones of their children,

their parents, their partners, their

friends, and of the experience of living

together. It also deprives communities,

especially communities of color, and

society at large, of vast amounts of talent

and resources.”

Having spent most of my life in the

criminal legal system, I have witnessed

one heartbreaking story after another.

Like Jonathan (Jon) Kirkpatrick, now

serving a life sentence for a murder he

committed at the age of 19.

Jon grew up in extreme poverty.

His mother, who had been married six

times during his childhood, struggled to

support her children. Some of the men

she brought home were abusive. One

of his stepdads was an escaped convict

who took him and his family on the run,

evading the U.S. Marshals for years.

They lived in rundown motels, where

drug addiction, violence and sex work

were common.

Looking to escape this toxic environment,

Jon moved in with his biological

father. He quickly realized that this living

situation was no better. His father beat

him often and by the age of 11, Jon

was using meth. He spent much of his

childhood in juvenile group homes and

eventually dropped out of school. Living

on the streets of Los Angeles, he did sex

work to pay for his drug addiction. He

was a kid trying to survive in environments

that would jade him forever.

Jon leaned further into drug use, the

only thing that helped him forget the

cards he’d been dealt. As he struggled

to afford his habit, he fell into a dangerous

path of robbing drug dealers and

stealing anything of value. Tragically,

someone lost their life and Jon lost his


Now three decades later, Jon is

drug-free, a mentor to younger prisoners,

and a successfully published writer.

These changes were possible because

people began to see who Jon really

was and invest in him. Older prisoners

in mentorship roles taught him how to

facilitate non-violent communication

dialogues. He connected with others

who struggled with addiction through

Narcotics Anonymous and learned

to lead those meetings. Eventually, he

partnered with the nonprofit group

ZEKE FALL 2023/ 13

San Quentin Prison. Photograph by Katherin Hervey from The Prison Within.

Empowerment Avenue, which supported

him in publishing his writing in mainstream

media outlets. (Empowerment

Avenue also supports my writing.) One

step at a time, Jon developed his confidence

and grew into the man he was

always meant to be.

It has become exceedingly apparent

that the majority of people in prison

are here due to the circumstances they

grew up in, which were often out of

their control. They are the victims of

being born into poverty, abusive or

neglectful families, over-policed neighborhoods,

and the violence that these

conditions create. In short, they have

spent their entire lives living to survive,

not to thrive. They carry generational

trauma and often lifelong connections

to the carceral system.

“Prison exacerbates all of those

feelings,” James King, the co-director

of programs at the Ella Baker Center

for Human Rights, said in an interview.

“If you felt low self-worth in your family,

wait until you see an indictment

that says, ‘The State of California vs.

James King.’ You’ll feel a little bit more


Unjust Financial Burdens

“If you have feelings of low self-worth

or low self-esteem, prison increases

those feelings and significantly contributes

to the lack of tools to deal with

trauma that underlie where a lot of

harmful activities come from in the first

place,” King said.

It’s not just the people imprisoned

who are harmed by the status quo —

our family members and loved ones

bear an enormous emotional, logistical

and financial burden as well. First

there’s the cost of legal support, for

those who can even afford to hire a

lawyer. Families often borrow from

friends, take out loans, or even sell their

homes to hire lawyers they hope can

bring their loved ones home. But the

cost doesn’t stop there. Once inside,

prisoners are faced with a deluge of

fines and fees related to victim’s funds,

court costs and the cost of incarceration.

If my family sends me any money,

roughly 50% of it gets taken out for

these fees. As a result of these high fees

and low wages, many prisoners rack

up institutional debt just by purchasing

things like soap, toothpaste and

stationery to stay in touch with friends

and family.

Everything in jail and prison — from

phone calls to Top Ramen to a sheet of

paper — costs exponentially more than

in the free world. And because prisoners

typically earn pennies per hour for

their labor, the costs of basic necessities

fall to our loved ones. Private companies

that provide commissary goods

or phone services to prisons bring in

$2.9 billion per year, the Prison Policy

Initiative estimated in 2019. Inflation

in recent years has only driven up the

prices of food and personal hygiene

products. Maintaining relationships is

expensive too. Visiting requires taking

time off work and often spending

hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in

travel and accommodation.

“I hate that they need to support me

in this way,” Bud Fraser, who is incarcerated

in Washington state, said in an

interview. “Knowing they struggle to do

it is frustrating.”

Inside of each and every prison in the

U.S., you will find a humanitarian crisis.

The infrastructure is rotting, the pipes

are eroding, the water is often contaminated,

the heat and the air conditioning

are constantly broken (or non-existent),

flooding is common, mold spreads

freely, and infectious diseases run rampant.

We subsist on a diet of processed

foods — even the prisoners put to work

growing crops often do not have access

to the fresh fruits or vegetables they

grow. Violence is commonplace, both

from guards who operate with impunity,

and from other prisoners, many of

whom are in desperate need of mental

healthcare. We have minimal access to

medical care and plenty of reasons not

to trust the medical professionals inside.

(In my state of Washington, the prison

ombudsman found that medical staff in

facilities throughout the state delayed

for months in diagnosing and treating

cancer patients, sometimes resulting in


Many facilities operate beyond their

intended maximum capacity, the risk

of which was made especially clear

as COVID-19 tore through prisons and

jails. It is no coincidence that incarcerated

people have accounted for a

disproportionate amount of the pandemic’s

death toll.

Forced to live in these unsafe

environments, we are often sentenced

to more than simply a loss of liberties

and freedom. Spending time in prison

can be a death sentence, even if that

wasn’t the assigned punishment. Each

year that someone spends in prison

decreases their life expectancy by two

years, the Vera Institute found.

Although prisons pay lip service to

rehabilitation, carceral environments

encourage violence and often punish

efforts at self-betterment. The few

rehabilitative programs that do exist

are often watered-down classes that

exist to justify more funding for the

prisons. Prisons function primarily to

14 / ZEKE FALL 2023

warehouse people until their time is

up, at which point they are released

back into the community with limited

resources, extensive unprocessed

trauma, and a criminal record that

restricts their employment and housing


Alternatives to Incarceration

True change doesn’t come from spending

an arbitrary number of years locked

up — it comes from accountability and

learning to love and respect yourself.

Those of us who learn to take responsibility

for the harm that we have caused

and have the sense of self-worth to hold

ourselves to a higher standard have

done so in spite of, not because of, the

prison system.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We

do not need prisons to keep us safe —

and there’s plenty of evidence that they

only put us in more danger. Although

prison abolition sounds like a far-off

reality, we already have a model of an

alternative way of addressing harm.

“When I think about the principles

of abolition, I think about many of the

wealthiest and most resourced communities

among us, and look at them

as a template in the roadmap for what,

in an ideal world, would be available

for everyone,” said King. “They have

the resources needed in those communities

to address trauma, for people to

have a living wage, for people to have

affordable housing, for people to live in

healthy environments. Their basic needs

are taken care of so they are able to

work towards better communities.”

“Equally important to that is, as

they’re growing up and they are

sometimes creating harm in their

neighborhood, it’s not criminalized, it’s

treated as something that needs to be

addressed through means other than

the criminal system,” King continued.

Seeking alternatives to incarceration

does not mean abandoning accountability.

As a society, we will always need

ways to address harm that is caused, but

the U.S. criminal legal system and incarceration

rarely do a good job of making

anyone feel whole,” Lee said. “Locking

people up doesn’t result in healing for

either the person who was harmed or

for the responsible party. Creating more

possibilities to address the harm itself

will result in much better outcomes for

everyone involved.”


Prison Policy Initiative


Prison Policy Initiative produces national

and state level research and data about

incarceration in prisons, jails and other

detention facilities.

Sentencing Project


The Sentencing Project works to minimize

imprisonment and criminalization by

promoting racial, ethnic, economic and

gender justice.

Worth Rises


Worth Rises works to dismantle the prison

industry, expose the commercialization of

the criminal legal system, and organize

to protect the economic resources of

impacted communities.



Families Against Mandatory Minimums

was founded in 1991 to challenge mandatory

minimum sentences. It continues to

work to create a more fair and effective

justice system.

Innocence Project


The Innocence Project works to free the

innocent, prevent wrongful convictions

and create fair, compassionate and equitable

systems of justice.

Black and Pink


Black and Pink is a prison abolitionist

organization that supports LGBTQ and HIVpositive

people who are incarcerated.



Dream.org focuses on ending mass incarceration,

stopping climate change, and

alleviating economic inequality.



The American Civil Liberties Union works

through litigation and lobbying to defend

and preserve individual’s guaranteed

constitutional and legal rights.

Unlock the Box:


An advocacy campaign aimed at ending

solitary confinement, a UN-recognized

form of torture, in U.S. prisons, jails,

detention, facilities and juvenile facilities.

Empowerment Avenue


Empowerment Avenue works to normalize

the inclusion of incarcerated writers

and artists in mainstream publications

and venues. It supports writers and artists

in prisons and helps them place and get

compensated for their work.

National Disability Rights



The National Disability Rights Network is

the only legally based advocacy organization

established by Congress to protect

the rights of people with disabilities,

including those who are incarcerated.



Look2Justice is a grassroots organization

of system-impacted organizers and

researchers who use an inside-out organizing

model to cultivate justice, fairness

and accountability in Washington state’s

ZEKE FALL 2023/ 15

16 / ZEKE FALL 2023

Absence of Being

by Michele Zousmer

In August 2014, San Diego Sheriff

Bill Gore spoke to me about a new

reentry program starting at Las

Colinas Detention and Reentry Center

for women. He asked me if I could

‘change the perception of the female

convict with my images.’ The following

week I entered Las Colinas open to this

new challenge.

Listening to the women I quickly realized

they were all victims of physical,

emotional, and/or sexual abuse. They

all experienced hardships and suffered

deprivation. As an observer, I heard their

tales and felt their pain. My heart hurt for


As my involvement deepened, my

relationships with these women grew.

I shared the grief I was feeling being

recently widowed. They appreciated

my expressing vulnerability. I encouraged

them to discard their shame and

not allow incarceration to define them. I

showed up for them.

Reentry is a big challenge in the judicial

system. Women’s issues are different.

Many women are single parents who

will be reunited with their children. Their

criminal behavior was associated with

negative self-esteem from their complicated

histories. I gave them hope. I made

them smile.

ZEKE FALL 2023/ 17

18 / ZEKE FALL 2023

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ZEKE FALL 2023/ 19



by Lou Jones

Portraits from Death Row

The Final Exposure project started for me

at about age 15 when I argued on the

issues of the death penalty with my father.

Throughout the Civil Rights movement, the

Vietnam War, in college, and afterward,

it stayed with me. Six years of my life

have been devoted to documenting the unseen,

unheard stories of an American subculture –

people on death row. I wanted to see if art could

make a difference. I realized before I began that

we don’t have to travel halfway around the world

to find some unique phenomenon or recently discovered

civilization to pique our jaded curiosity.

The problem of our government-sanctioned murder

lives with us.

My crew and I endured bone-chilling snowstorms,

cheap motels, greasy meals, and numerous

episodes of having our bodies frisked in

order to bring this story to light. We explored the

darkest side of the human condition even though

it was our objective to humanize the people that

the federal government and the states execute.

We made sure we understood who was being

killed in order to start a real debate about capital

punishment. Many of the men/women are stoic

when marching to their demise. But even though

we admire the stamina that it takes to endure this

ordeal in the super-macho environment, these are

not heroic voyages these men are taking. And we

must never be seduced into thinking otherwise.

Edward Dean “Sonny”


Florida State Prison

Starke, Florida

Year of birth: 1945

Marital status: Single

Children: None

Date of offense: April 11, 1981

Sentenced to death: January 12,


Status: Executed July 21, 1992 by


20 / ZEKE FALL 2023

ZEKE FALL 2023/ 21

LaFonda Fay Foster

Fayette County Detention Center

Lexington, Kentucky

Year of birth: 1963

Marital status: Divorced prior to crime

Children: None

Date of offense: April 23, 1986

Sentenced to death: April 24, 1987

Status: Re-sentenced to life without parole,

January 1999

22 / ZEKE FALL 2023

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Nicholas Yarris

State Correctional Institution at Greene

Waynesburg, Pennsylvania

Year of birth: 1961

Marital Status: Married while on death row

Children: None

Date of offense: December 15, 1981

Sentenced to death: January 23, 1983

Status overturned: Exonerated January 2004

ZEKE FALL 2023/ 23







Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Jay Aronson

Johns Hopkins University Press, 2023

312 pages / $28.95

It’s a simple question, one that should

be easy to answer: How many

people in the United States have

been killed by police or died while in

the custody of the criminal system?

The frustrating answer is that no

one knows, because law enforcement

agencies and their allies don’t want

us to know, according to the authors

of Death in Custody: How America

Ignores the Truth and What We Can

Do about It.

Roger A. Mitchell Jr. and Jay D.

Aronson provide details and data

about the alarming number of people

who have been killed during encounters

with law enforcement.

First, the details. While some were

gunned down and brutally beaten by

police officers, others “mysteriously” died

while confined in the horrible conditions

all too common in jails and prisons

across the country. Yet it is rare for law

enforcement agencies to be held accountable

for these preventable deaths.

One of the many examples the

authors present is from an investigation

by Mike Masterson, a young

journalist who has dedicated his

career to reporting what happens in

police precincts, mental health care

facilities, courtrooms, jails, prisons,

and medical examiners’ offices.

Masterson found that in Chicago’s

Harrison District police lockup, more

than 20 men were declared to have

died by suicide in police custody

over 20 months. The majority were

Black or Latinx, and seven of them

had been arrested for minor crimes.

According to the medical examiners,

10 had hung themselves with belts

and shoelaces, and most of them had

been locked up for only a few hours

before they died. Despite clear signs

of brutal treatment, no one was held

accountable, mainly because of the

medical examiners’ findings.

Second, where is the data?

Mitchell and Aronson point out that

one of the primary reasons for the

lack of accountability is the absence

of reliable information about those

who have died during encounters

with law enforcement. In addition,

they provide compelling evidence

that racist and biased ideologies

have motivated medical examiners

to either exclude or falsify autopsies

when a death incriminates the legal

system or political allies.

As it has become clear that these

injustices are not anomalies, activists

and journalists have pressed the criminal

justice system for greater transparency

and accountability, only to be met

with excuses for why it can’t be done.

But the authors point out that the U.S.

government has been able to track

every other type of death. The refusal

to account for those who have died in

prisons and jails, and at the hands of

police, speaks to the miniscule value

that law-enforcement agencies have

placed on communities of color who

are disproportionately being killed.

In response to this very real problem,

Mitchell and Aronson call for the

National Center for Health Statistics to

add a check-box to death certificates

for those who have died during interactions

with the criminal legal system.

They argue that in a democracy, citizens

should be able to figure out how

many people are killed during interactions

with law enforcement, why they

are killed, and whether training and

policies can be modified to decrease

the number of officer-involved deaths.

Without this data, citizens won’t be

able to analyze trends and demand

action. The result: no accountability.

Nearly all homicides committed by

police are written off as “justified,”

and people will continue to lose their

lives, all under the narrative of protecting

society from crime.

The refusal to account for those who

have died in prisons and jails, and at the

hands of police, speaks to the miniscule

value that law-enforcement agencies

have placed on communities of color who

are disproportionately being killed.

This problem is hardly new. Death

in Custody provides readers with the

brutal history on which the U.S. criminal

legal system was built. Beginning

with the gruesome era following

the enslavement of Black people in

America, the book unpacks the history

of how Blacks were lynched by White

supremacists and then dehumanized

by racist narratives as a means

of justifying these barbaric acts of

murder. When Ida B. Wells and other

anti-lynching activists began to force

greater awareness of these atrocities,

the United States passed an anti-lynching

law. But the country also held onto

White supremacy, shifting from lynching

Blacks to a more professionalized

way of controlling and oppressing

communities of color — the criminal

legal system.

These days, when police shoot an

unarmed person on the streets, there

24 / ZEKE FALL 2023

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likely will be media coverage. On

the other end of the spectrum lies the

silent indifference to the wellbeing

of people who are placed in their

custody, especially people of color. As

someone incarcerated in that system,

I have witnessed firsthand this routine

neglect. One example is how an

incarcerated student who had been a

part of a Black Prisoners Caucus educational

programs in Washington state

was inappropriately taken to solitary

confinement. According to prison staff,

the prisoner didn’t feel safe with other

prisoners in the main part of the facility.

Later, that prisoner committed suicide

by slitting his wrist with a razor.

On the surface, one may believe

the prison can bear no fault for the

prisoner’s suicide, but as Mitchell

and Aronson argue, negligence that

leads to death is inexcusable. Solitary

confinement is a place of punishment

and has never been a safe place for

prisoners. In addition, prisoners are

supposed to be thoroughly searched

before being placed in solitary confinement.

Despite this negligence, no

one was held accountable.

Death in Custody shows that from

the late 1800s until today, people

have died under the care of this

same criminal legal system. This book

reveals more than the obvious killings

that happen at the hands of violent

law enforcement officers -— it uncovers

the silent deaths that result from

neglectful prison staff who fail to do

their jobs. The point here is clear:

these unnecessary deaths will continue

to occur until there is a uniform way of

making our judicial system transparent

and accountable for what they do and

don’t do, for those in its care.

—Antoine Davis

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The En Foco Photography Fellowship is

designed to support New York-based

photographers of color who demonstrate the

highest quality of work as determined by a

photography panel of peers and industry

professionals. The program awards 10

fellowships at $1,000 each, includes fellows in a

group exhibition, features them in the Nueva

Luz publication (printed and online editions),

and provides professional development and

networking opportunities.



En Foco’s Media Arts Fund: Work in Progress

(WIP) Initiative is a grant to support New York

City-based, early-career artists of color who

engage with digital media technologies in their

art-making processes. In collaboration with

BronxNet, these $2,000 awards will focus on

applicants needing support for the completion

of a quality work in progress.



Visit www.enfoco.org

for upcoming deadlines

ZEKE FALL 2023/ 25


Barbara Ayotte is the editor of ZEKE

magazine and the Communications Director

of the Social Documentary Network. She

has served as a senior strategic communications

strategist, writer and activist for leading

global health, human rights and media

nonprofit organizations, including the Nobel

Peace Prize- winning Physicians for Human

Rights and International Campaign to Ban


After 18 years as a public defender,

Sara Bennett turned her attention

to photographing women with life

sentences, inside and outside prison. Her

work has been widely exhibited in solo

shows including at the Blue Sky Gallery

in Portland, OR, and in group shows,

including the Blanton Museum of Art’s Day

Jobs, and featured in publications such as

The New York Times, Variety and Rolling

Stone’s “American (In)Justice”, and others.

Christopher Blackwell is an awardwinning

journalist currently incarcerated

at the Washington Corrections Center,

Shelton, WA. He is serving a 45-year

prison sentence for taking another human’s

life during a drug robbery—something

he takes full accountability for. He was

raised in a mixed Native American/white

family in the Hilltop Area of Tacoma,

Washington, one of the roughest places

to live in the country– ravaged by overpolicing,

gangs, violence, and drugs.

Daniela Cohen is a freelance journalist

and non-fiction writer of South African

origin based in Vancouver, Canada.

Her work has been published in New

Canadian Media, Canadian Immigrant,

eJewish Philanthropy, The Source

Newspaper, and Living Hyphen. Daniela’s

work focuses on themes of displacement

and belonging, justice, equity, diversity

and inclusion. She is also the co-founder of

Identity Pages, a youth writing mentorship


Antoine Davis, 34, is a licensed

minister at Freedom Church of Seattle

currently incarcerated at Washington

Correction Center, serving a 63-year

sentence. His writing has been published

in Counterpunch, The Appeal, Your Teen

Magazine, and many other outlets. Follow

Antoine on Twitter at @AntoineEDavis.

Marissa Fiorucci is a freelance photographer

in Boston, MA. She is former studio

manager for photographer Mark Ostow

and worked on projects including portraits

of the Obama Cabinet for Politico. She

specializes in corporate portraits and

events, but remains passionate about


A San Francisco native, Brian Frank

has created social documentary projects

across the Americas focusing on cultural

identity, social inequality, violence,

workers rights and the environment. A

Professor of Journalism and Catchlight

Global-Fellow, Frank has led visual

storytelling workshops for professional

educators and journalists across the USA

and children and teens in the U.S. and

Mexico and lectured on visuals-based

curriculum at universities nationwide. His

work has been recognized with numerous

awards and featured in many publications.

April Harris is an author who is

incarcerated at the California Institution

for Women in Chino, California. Her

experiences are a powerful insight to

advocate for incarcerated people and

the betterment of their environment. She

has been interviewed by LA Weekly,

The Guardian, San Francisco Chronicle,

Washington Post, and Solitary Watch,

among many other outlets.

Katherin Hervey is an artist and awardwinning

filmmaker interested in what is

hiding in the dark crevices of the American

landscape and collective psyches, believing

truth is found in the dark before it shines in

the light. Her first feature film, The Prison

Within, won eight awards. A thought

leader in criminal justice reform, Katherin

has been featured in various media

publications. Her mixed media artworks

and creative fiction have been showcased

in galleries and literary journals.

When not traveling, Lou Jones

exhibits at schools, museums, galleries,

libraries, and institutions around the

world. Throughout his career, Jones has

undertaken personal long-term projects,

such as Japan, tall ships, jazz, pregnancy

and photographing people on fourteen

death rows in the USA, resulting in two

books and many exhibitions. In recent

years, Jones has been documenting all 54

countries in contemporary Africa, trying

to change the narrative from stereotypical

negative topics of poverty, pestilence, and

conflict: www.panAFRICAproject.org.

Peter Merts’s photography spans

documentary, portrait, and fine art forms

and has been published in the New

York Times, the Washington Post, and

others. In 2015, Peter and Dr. Larry

Brewster published Paths of Discovery—

Art Practice and Its Impact in California

State Prisons (second edition.) In Spring

2022, Peter published a monograph of his

photographs as Ex Crucible: The Passion

of Incarcerated Artists. An archive of his

prison arts photographs can be found on


Ryan M. Moser is a formerly

incarcerated journalist and award-winning

writer from Philadelphia. His work can be

found on muckrack.com/ryan-moser.

Howard Zehr is Distinguished Professor

of Restorative Justice at Eastern Mennonite

University, VA. He is internationally

recognized as one of the founders and

leaders of restorative justice and has been

active as a professional photographer

throughout his career. His publications

include six photo books, including one on

children whose parents are incarcerated,

one highlighting Virginians and their

pickup trucks, and The Little Book of

Contemporary Photography, which

presents a meditative approach.

Michele Zousmer is a humanitarian fine

art photographer who uses her camera

as an instrument to amplify the voices of

marginalized individuals and communities,

conveying curiosity, love, and the enduring

hope within humanity. Through cultivating

genuine connections, the soul of her

images emerges — a poignant reflection

of shared humanity. She aims to offer

solace, empowerment, and a dignified

healing process by exposing the innate

strength and resilience of the human spirit

within each person she captures.

26 / ZEKE FALL 2023

FALL 2023 VOL.9/NO.2

$15 US



Published by Social Documentary Network

ZEKE is published by Social Documentary Network (SDN), a

nonprofit organization promoting visual storytelling about global

themes. Started as a website in 2008, today SDN works with thousands

of photographers around the world to tell important stories

through the visual medium of photography. Since 2008, SDN has

featured more than 4,000 exhibits on its website and has had

gallery exhibitions in major cities around the world.


Executive Editor: Glenn Ruga

Editor: Barbara Ayotte

Guest Editor: Christopher Blackwell

SDN and ZEKE magazine

are projects of Reportage

International, Inc., a nonprofit

organization founded in 2020.

Reportage International,

Inc. Board of Directors

Glenn Ruga, President

Eric Luden, Treasurer

Barbara Ayotte, Secretary

Dudley Brooks

Lisa DuBois

John Heffernan

Maggie Soladay

Documentary Advisory Group

To Subscribe:


ZEKE does not accept unsolicited

submissions. To be considered for

publication in ZEKE, submit your

work to the SDN website either as

a standard exhibit or a submission

to a Call for Entries.

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Concord, MA 01742 USA








Bill Aguado, Bronx, NY

Catherine Edelman, Chicago, IL

Jill Foley, Silver Springs, MD

Lori Grinker, New York, NY

Michael Itkoff, Bronx, NY

Lou Jones, Boston, MA

Ed Kashi, Montclair, NJ

Lekgetho Makola, Johanesburg

Mary Beth Meehan, Providence, RI

Marie Monteleone, New York, NY

Molly Roberts, Washington, DC

Joseph Rodriguez, Brooklyn, NY

Jamel Shabazz, Hempstead, NY

Nichole Sobecki, Kenya

Jamey Stillings, Sante Fe, NM

Steve Walker, Danbury, CT

Frank Ward, Williamsburg, MA

Amy Yenkin, New York, NY

ZEKE is published twice a year by

Social Documentary Network, a

project of Reportage International,


Copyright © 2023

Social Documentary Network

ISSN 2381-1390

ZEKE FALL 2023/ 27

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