I did work the field when I first went out there and we planted squash, zucchini, potatoes, you know, a couple of things and you had to pick them and pull them. But something out there wasn't right, you know? That’s why they closed it down. And I had a young lady that worked out there, and her fingers had gotten black and got infected… a lot of people have died because a lack of adequate help and attention that they need dealing with their health.
For this site-specific installation I have drawn from several aspects of Tonja’s story, including her descriptions of the unpaid garment work she did while incarcerated (ironically making prison uniforms for other prisons). In doing some further research I came to better understand Louisiana’s long-standing history with convict leasing and unpaid labor within the prison system. The idea of mass production through mass incarceration spun through my head as I decided to create an entire installation out of catalog photographs of prison uniforms, much like the ones Tonja had produced while in prison in a uniform of her own. I created a color palette to work from out of the plethora of color options available through “leading detention suppliers” online and set out to make work that looked into the realities women faced when serving time behind bars.
One fact I learned early on though research compiled for this exhibition is that an estimated 80% of incarcerated women in the state of Louisiana are the sole caretakers of children under the age of 18. While Tonja and her son were older when she was sent to prison, she shared that she and her son were both released from separate prison sentences at the same time. I was struck by the idea of familial incarceration. Using these ideas, I created five traditional family portraits of incarcerated mothers and their young or soon to be children, framing them and placing them on top of wallpaper depicting the state flower. Each portrait, constructed meticulously out of hundreds of prison uniforms, intentionally obscures facial features and places families in generic visitation rooms, making commentary on the struggle to maintain one’s sense of identity and personal space while incarcerated and touch on the potential prescribed future of everyone depicted.