The Road to Redemption

By Sadé Clacken Joseph

Since March 2017 I have visited nearly a dozen California State Prisons, Juvenile Detention Centers and halfway homes as apart of Commonʼs Prison Tour to help end mass incarceration. Each incarcerated man, woman, teenager and non- binary person I have met during these visits have impacted my life in some way.

I did not embark on the Prison Tour with the intent to take portraits. I was there to document Common, his performances and interactions with those who he was given permission to speak with. At first, I was nervous my camera would make those incarcerated feel shy or offended. I wanted to be respectful, sensitive and aware of my place as an outsider. To my surprise most men, as I was not often given access to womenʼs cell blocks, lit up when they saw my camera. They would bang on their cell windows or call out through metal bars for me take photos. They were proud to showcase their masculinity and tiny cell they called home. I quickly realized, many had never had their picture taken, let alone attended a concert and how much our presence meant.

When my subjects pose, their faces — most of them black and brown — do not wear their years of incarceration; instead they wear hope. Even those who have been imprisoned for decades, given life sentences with no chance of parole, brimmed with positivity and confidence. I honestly do not know how these men, women and children have been able to find the road to redemption and the strength to continue. The individuals in these photographs are genuinely some of the most loving, self-aware and kind human beings. They have become remarkable leaders, fathers and mothers to all around them during their time served. Their energy radiated onto me and inspired me, when I had come thinking I would be inspiring them. This series celebrates their lives because, although the system tries to say otherwise, they matter.