The Road to Redemption

By Sadé Clacken Joseph

California Institution for Women | Corona, CA, 2017  The time spent at the women’s facilities is always the most emotional. Most of these queens are serving decades for crimes they did not commit. A majority were caught holding for or protecting their partners. Too many are victims of sexual and physical abuse, neglect and were never told they were worth being loved. Will never see their children or grandchildren outside of prison. Have been discarded and written off by their families. Too many aren’t able to have the luxury of access to tampons and feminine hygiene products. The intense love most of these women have for each other is infectious. For most they are all each other has. “I am not free until my girls are free” said one woman set to be paroled in the upcoming months.

California Institution for Women | Corona, CA, 2017

The time spent at the women’s facilities is always the most emotional. Most of these queens are serving decades for crimes they did not commit. A majority were caught holding for or protecting their partners. Too many are victims of sexual and physical abuse, neglect and were never told they were worth being loved. Will never see their children or grandchildren outside of prison. Have been discarded and written off by their families. Too many aren’t able to have the luxury of access to tampons and feminine hygiene products. The intense love most of these women have for each other is infectious. For most they are all each other has. “I am not free until my girls are free” said one woman set to be paroled in the upcoming months.

First Day Free After 30 Years of Incarceration | South Central, 2017

First Day Free After 30 Years of Incarceration | South Central, 2017

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.

Susan Burton | Folsom Prison, 2018  Susan spent 15 years in prison, after losing her child, being a victim of abuse and falling into drug addiction. She is now the founder of a New Way of Life which operates five safe homes in Los Angeles that supply a lifeline to hundreds of formerly incarcerated women and their children.

Susan Burton | Folsom Prison, 2018

Susan spent 15 years in prison, after losing her child, being a victim of abuse and falling into drug addiction. She is now the founder of a New Way of Life which operates five safe homes in Los Angeles that supply a lifeline to hundreds of formerly incarcerated women and their children.

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.

Folsom Prison, 2017

Folsom Prison, 2017

Jesse | Ironwood, 2017

Jesse | Ironwood, 2017

Ironwood, 2017

Ironwood, 2017

Calipatria, 2017

Calipatria, 2017

Calipatria, 2017

Calipatria, 2017

Lancaster State Prison, 2017

Lancaster State Prison, 2017

Folsom Prison, 2017

Folsom Prison, 2017