“Prison Obsura”: A Glimpse Into America’s Prison System

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By Shanieka Stanton

Editor and curator, Pete Brook, sat down in an interview with the Huffington Post recently to shed light on America’s prison industrial complex, and the hidden dread and suffering of its forgotten prisoners.

Brook has been writing about, and capturing the invidious images of America’s prison system since 2008, and in 2013 began sharing those images with the world in an exhibition entitled, “Prison Obscura.”

The activist brought together stark images of inmates from varying prisons for his exhibition, revealing the often disregarded pain and strife that incarcerated men and women feel on a daily basis. In one photo, an inmate is shown shrinking into the corner of his cell in a birds-eye view, as if he were in fear for his life. Some of the images in the exhibition were taken by prisoners themselves, providing the silenced the opportunity to reclaim the narrative of their own stories.

More horrific than the imposing existence of America’s prison system, are the personal stories from the inmates behind its walls. Tales of rape, murder, suicide, and beatings lie beneath publicized stories of prisoners dying due to being denied medication or medical treatment.

Brook says that his goal is to simply open the eyes of Americans, and bring humanity to an often begrudged portion of its population. “No society in the history of mankind has incarcerated so many of its citizens than the U.S. today, now,” Brook told The Huffington Post. “We need to disassemble the notion that prisoners are different. They are us and prisons are ours. It might not seem like prisons are part of our society, but they are. So we need to be conscientious consumers of images.”

Presidential contender, Hillary Clinton, in a 2015 speech said, “It’s a stark fact that the United States has less than five percent of the world’s population, yet we have almost 25 percent of the world’s total prison population. The numbers today are much higher than they were 30, 40 years ago despite the fact that crime is at historic lows.”

Brook told the Huffington Post that he hopes his exhibition will convey, through powerful images, that prisoners are not America’s outsiders, but rather products of American society. “The prison crisis is symptomatic of a society that isn’t helping out its most marginalized, economically disadvantaged communities,” Brook explained. “Prisons are the result of fear, vengeance and division; they are not of common-understanding, community or unity. I want audiences to understand that prisons are the result of decisions, policies and laws. It is a system that has been man-made. It can be unmade by us. If so, we’ll all be better off.”

Click here to learn more about “Prison Obscura.”

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