recentpopularlog in

robertogreco : solitaryconfinement   2

What Do People in Solitary Confinement Want to See? | The New Yorker
“Willie Sterling III imagined this: a line of people, bonded by a belief in his humanity, travelling up a hill in southern Illinois to a cross that sits at its peak. The cross was Bald Knob Cross of Peace, a colossus more than a hundred feet tall. It was made of concrete and varnished with porcelain, and wherever you were, within thousands of miles, you strode in its shadow. Sterling saw his believers huddled at its base, praying for his deliverance from solitary confinement and for him to be granted parole after more than three decades behind bars.

Sterling envisioned this scene as part of a program—begun by a group of lawyers, community members, artists, and currently and formerly incarcerated men and their families, and based in Chicago—that fulfills the photography requests of inmates being held in solitary confinement. Tamms Correctional Center, where Sterling was held for several years, and which closed in 2013, was the only supermax prison in the state of Illinois; it housed people who were deemed “the worst of the worst,” as its first warden, George Welborn, told the Chicago Tribune in 1998, and it held the majority of them in what was euphemistically referred to as isolation. Tamms had seven hundred beds, five hundred of them in an all-solitary-confinement supermax facility. Those in solitary spent at least twenty-two hours a day in their cells. Some days, they were not let out at all. For meals, boiled eggs and loaves of congealed food were slid through a thin aperture in the steel cell door. The sink and the toilet were combined into one structure.

In 2006, activists formed a poetry committee to mitigate the sensory deprivation that the prison inflicted on the people held there. They exchanged letters and poems with the inmates. Two years later, the committee transformed into Tamms Year Ten, a coalition that protested the conditions at the prison, with the goal of seeing it shuttered. The group also asked inmates to fill out a form describing a picture that they would like to receive. A volunteer would then create it.

Laurie Jo Reynolds, the organizer of Tamms Year Ten, recently described to me, over the phone, the work that was done to fulfill Sterling’s request: “We got a caravan of sixteen family members. I got an a-cappella singer, one of our volunteers, to sing ‘Amazing Grace.’ And then we had to work it out with the proprietor of Bald Knob Cross that we would have dinner there, because it was dark by the time it was over.” In the wide-shot photo, the cross looms against a colorless sky as a crowd of people, dressed in white and black, huddles nearby, heads lowered. To Sterling, the image was an amulet, a prayer frozen in time. One year after Sterling received it, he was granted parole.”



“According to many human-rights organizations, the prolonged lack of human contact and sensory deprivation that inmates experience in solitary confinement qualifies as torture. The legislative campaign that Tamms Year Ten spearheaded succeeded in closing the prison. The photo-request project continued, in affiliation with the watchdog group Solitary Watch. Now known as Photo Requests from Solitary, it is run by Reynolds, Jean Casella, a co-director of Solitary Watch, and Jeanine Oleson, a professor of photography at Parsons School of Design. According to Casella, in six years, the program has received a few hundred requests for people imprisoned in Illinois, New York, California, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.”



“The sensual urges of the incarcerated are often demonized, dismissed as criminal or undeserved, but Photo Requests from Solitary regards them without judgment. Within the parameters of prison rules, the group fulfills requests of an erotic bent. Reynolds told me fondly about a man named Johnny, who asked for a particular screenshot of Jennifer Lopez’s butt from the “Jenny from the Block” music video. She noted that many men’s requests for pictures of women seemed tender, oriented to narrative and tableau—more like what you would see in “women’s porn,” she said. Dan, for instance, requested a modest fantasy: a picture of a “black female with hazel eyes,” with “orange and blue in the sky” and a Mercedes-Benz of “powder blue.” His request was realized via a collaboration between Photo Requests and Vice. The photographer, Jason Altaan, made the image glaringly arty; I wonder how Dan liked it.

Not all of the people who volunteer for these assignments are artists or photographers, per se. Most fulfill the assignments straightforwardly, without interpreting or embellishing, even when the requests are conceptual—men and women asking to be represented as howling wolves, or crying lions, or sad clowns. The volunteers do their best to be another person’s eyes, and to respect the significance of the exchange. (You can visit the project’s Web site and, if you’d like, fulfill a request of your own.) Frank, imprisoned in California, enclosed a photograph of his daughter with his form, asking that she be Photoshopped into an image of the Pyramid of the Sun, in Teotihuacán, Mexico. Jason Mena placed her in the sky above the structure, as if she were the sun. One man requested a new picture of his daughter; a volunteer travelled to her home to take it. In the box, time stands still and it doesn’t. Chris asked to see a photograph of the Barclays Center, in downtown Brooklyn, which had been built while he was incarcerated. “I just want to see it the best way the photographer can capture it. To feel as if I’m right there,” he wrote.

Advocates estimate that eighty thousand people are currently housed in solitary confinement, though the difficulty of tracking confined populations means that the number may be larger. A small exhibition of Photo Requests from Solitary was recently held at the Brooklyn Public Library, featuring banners printed with blown-up copies of some of the prisoners’ requests. I noticed that observers lingered longer on the request forms than they did on the pictures. Regrets, anguish, and hope emanated from the handwriting. The descriptions were abundant and precise, sometimes ecstatic—images that the inmates assembled from language long before they were made visual. “Motion!,” Mark, in Pennsylvania, writes. “I’ve been in solitary for twenty-three years and three days today. It’s like living in a still-life painting;. . . I’d like to see things moving. Perhaps traffic at night, lights shining and the trails from lights whizzing past.”“
doreenstfélix  photography  society  prison  solitaryconfinement  2019  imagery  sensorydeprivation  senses  humanrights  incarceration  solidarity 
9 weeks ago by robertogreco
Ethan Zuckerman: Solving Other People's Problems With Technology - The Atlantic
"In other words, is it possible to get beyond both a naïve belief that the latest technology will solve social problems—and a reaction that rubbishes any attempt to offer novel technical solutions as inappropriate, insensitive, and misguided? Can we find a synthesis in which technologists look at their work critically and work closely with the people they’re trying to help in order to build sociotechnical systems that address hard problems?

Obviously, I think this is possible — if really, really hard — or I wouldn’t be teaching at an engineering school. But before considering how we overcome a naïve faith in technology, let’s examine Snow’s suggestion. It’s a textbook example of a solution that’s technically sophisticated, simple to understand, and dangerously wrong."



"The problem with the solutionist critique, though, is that it tends to remove technological innovation from the problem-solver’s toolkit. In fact, technological development is often a key component in solving complex social and political problems, and new technologies can sometimes open a previously intractable problem. The rise of inexpensive solar panels may be an opportunity to move nations away from a dependency on fossil fuels and begin lowering atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, much as developments in natural gas extraction and transport technologies have lessened the use of dirtier fuels like coal.

But it’s rare that technology provides a robust solution to a social problem by itself. Successful technological approaches to solving social problems usually require changes in laws and norms, as well as market incentives to make change at scale."



"Of the many wise things my Yale students said during our workshop was a student who wondered if he should be participating at all. “I don’t know anything about prisons, I don’t have family in prison. I don’t know if I understand these problems well enough to solve them, and I don’t know if these problems are mine to solve.”

Talking about the workshop with my friend and colleague Chelsea Barabas, she asked the wonderfully deep question, “Is it ever okay to solve another person’s problem?”

On its surface, the question looks easy to answer. We can’t ask infants to solve problems of infant mortality, and by extension, it seems unwise to let kindergarten students design educational policy or demand that the severely disabled design their own assistive technologies.

But the argument is more complicated when you consider it more closely. It’s difficult if not impossible to design a great assistive technology without working closely, iteratively, and cooperatively with the person who will wear or use it. My colleague Hugh Herr designs cutting-edge prostheses for U.S. veterans who’ve lost legs, and the centerpiece of his lab is a treadmill where amputees test his limbs, giving him and his students feedback about what works, what doesn’t, and what needs to change. Without the active collaboration with the people he’s trying to help, he’s unable to make technological advances.

Disability rights activists have demanded “nothing about us without us,” a slogan that demands that policies should not be developed without the participation of those intended to benefit from those policies.

Design philosophies like participatory design and codesign bring this concept to the world of technology, demanding that technologies designed for a group of people be designed and built, in part, by those people. Codesign challenges many of the assumptions of engineering, requiring people who are used to working in isolation to build broad teams and to understand that those most qualified to offer a technical solution may be least qualified to identify a need or articulate a design problem. This method is hard and frustrating, but it’s also one of the best ways to ensure that you’re solving the right problem, rather than imposing your preferred solution on a situation."



"It is unlikely that anyone is going to invite Shane Snow to redesign a major prison any time soon, so spending more than 3,000 words urging you to reject his solution may be a waste of your time and mine. But the mistakes Snow makes are those that engineers make all the time when they turn their energy and creativity to solving pressing and persistent social problems. Looking closely at how Snow’s solutions fall short offers some hope for building better, fairer, and saner solutions.

The challenge, unfortunately, is not in offering a critique of how solutions go wrong. Excellent versions of that critique exist, from Morozov’s war on solutionism, to Courtney Martin’s brilliant “The Reductive Seduction of Other People’s Problems.” If it’s easy to design inappropriate solutions about problems you don’t fully understand, it’s not much harder to criticize the inadequacy of those solutions.

What’s hard is synthesis — learning to use technology as part of well-designed sociotechnical solutions. These solutions sometimes require profound advances in technology. But they virtually always require people to build complex, multifunctional teams that work with and learn from the people the technology is supposed to benefit.

Three students at the MIT Media Lab taught a course last semester called “Unpacking Impact: Reflecting as We Make.” They point out that the Media Lab prides itself on teaching students how to make anything, and how to turn what you make into a business, but rarely teaches reflection about what we make and what it might mean for society as a whole. My experience with teaching this reflective process to engineers is that it’s both important and potentially paralyzing, that once we understand the incompleteness of technology as a path for solving problems and the ways technological solutions relate to social, market, and legal forces, it can be hard to build anything at all.

I’m going to teach a new course this fall, tentatively titled “Technology and Social Change.” It’s going to include an examination of the four levers of social change Larry Lessig suggests in Code, and which I’ve been exploring as possible paths to civic engagement. The course will include deep methodological dives into codesign, and will examine using anthropology as tool for understanding user needs. It will look at unintended consequences, cases where technology’s best intentions fail, and cases where careful exploration and preparation led to technosocial systems that make users and communities more powerful than they were before.

I’m “calling my shot” here for two reasons. One, by announcing it publicly, I’m less likely to back out of it, and given how hard these problems are, backing out is a real possibility. And two, if you’ve read this far in this post, you’ve likely thought about this issue and have suggestions for what we should read and what exercises we should try in the course of the class — I hope you might be kind enough to share those with me.

In the end, I’m grateful for Shane Snow’s surreal, Black Mirror vision of the future prison both because it’s a helpful jumping-off point for understanding how hard it is to make change well by using technology, and because the U.S. prison system is a broken and dysfunctional system in need of change. But we need to find ways to disrupt better, to challenge knowledgeably, to bring the people they hope to benefit into the process. If you can, please help me figure out how we teach these ideas to the smart, creative people I work with—people who want to change the world, and are afraid of breaking it in the process."
technology  technosolutionism  solutionism  designimperialism  humanitariandesign  problemsolving  2016  ethanzuckerman  design  blackmirror  shanesnow  prisons  socialchange  lawrencelessig  anthropology  medialab  courtneymartin  nutraloaf  soylent  codesign  evgenymorozov  olcp  wikipedia  bias  racism  empathy  suziecagle  mitmedialab  mit  systems  systemsthinking  oculusrift  secondlife  vr  virtualreality  solitaryconfinement  incarceration  change  changemaking  ethnography  chelseabarabas  participatory  participatorydesign 
july 2016 by robertogreco

Copy this bookmark:





to read