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A Trip Inside Graterford Prison and A Look At Sam Durant’s BRILLIANT #OpenSourcePHL Installation

October 2, 2015

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This past July I had the incredible and humbling opportunity to spend a day at Graterford Prison, Pennsylvania’s largest maximum-security prison right outside of Philadelphia, in Montgomery County.

I traveled to Graterford to document a project that a number of the inmates were working on which saw them create “Vote Here” signs to be installed around Philly polling stations on Election Day, November 3rd. The signs were commissioned by a project I’m working on called Next Stop: Democracy in conjunction with the Mural Art’s Restorative Justice program. (Learn more about the “Vote Here” project HERE!)

While I was there, I saw a few of the guys working on another voting-themed project, which I soon learned was Sam Durant‘s #OpenSourcePHL project aimed at addressing the “quagmire of criminal justice in America.”

This week, Sam’s installation, a 40 x 40 foot maze made of chain link fencing, was put up in Thomas Paine Plaza, across the street from City Hall. And according to the Open Source website, “The public will be invited to interact with the maze by hanging personal items on the structure, using it as a platform to address issues surrounding mass incarceration. Initially the structure will be transparent, and as the public interacts with the art, it will become opaque. The maze functions as a double metaphor, symbolizing not only the struggle of criminals caught in the Department of Corrections but for how, as a society, we are all navigating the labyrinth of mass incarceration.”

To begin this opaque-ing process, the first item hung to the maze was a large banner created by prisoners at Graterford. It was, in fact, the piece I saw them working on while I visited the prison. The inmates’ piece contains a list of issues they’d vote for, if they could. IF.

I’ll let their words speak for themselves, they’re powerful and you should read every word. But what I might add is how disheartening it is for me to talk with these inmates who now have absolutely no control over their environment/lives (one of whom was arrested at 16, charged and sentenced as an adult, and been in there for over 30 years) and then just days/weeks later hear people around me talk apathetically about voting. To listen to people who have a voice talk so indifferently about voting is even more frustrating/saddening to me now.

If you have a voice, use it. And if you have the right to vote, do it. There are countless people would would if they could.

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