CELL 17 INSTALLATION • Washington, DC • June 2018
CELL 17 is a multimedia installation that brings viewers inside the experience of confinement in a prison cell. A collaboration between the artist and several men from DC who received life sentences as children and have been incarcerated for more than 20 years, the installation features audio and video projections layering archival materials and memories from the “juvenile lifers.”
Because of a recent change in the law, all of the narrators are now eligible to petition local courts for resentencing and release back to their communities. They reflect on their decades-long journeys behind bars and their transformation into self-educated men who are preparing to return to society as adults.
The installation will also invite viewers to “meet” and engage with other currently incarcerated juvenile lifers from DC through their images, handwritten letters, poetry and more. Featuring the work of collaborator Halim A. Flowers from his new collection of poetry #UNCHAINABLE.
THE UNITED STATES IS THE ONLY NATION IN THE WORLD THAT SENTENCES CHILDREN TO LIFE IN PRISON.
And African American youth are serving life without parole sentences at a per capita rate that is 10 times that of white youth.
Adolescent development research has proven that children’s brains and characters are still forming. They do not have adult levels of judgment or ability to assess risks. They are also uniquely capable of rehabilitation, so should be held accountable in age-appropriate ways with a focus on rehabilitation and reintegration into society (from the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth).
Hundreds of people from Washington, DC, are serving indeterminate life sentences that they received before the age of 18. And because the nation’s capital doesn’t have its own prison system, these young people serve their sentences at federal facilities all over the country, often hundreds or thousands of miles from their families and communities in DC.
Over the past decade, a series of Supreme Court decisions held mandatory life without parole sentences for children to be unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment. In 2016, the DC City Council enacted the Incarceration Reduction Amendment Act (IRAA), a law that provides people from DC who were charged as adults and received long sentences when they were children an opportunity to petition DC courts for resentencing and potential release if they have served at least 20 years.
The men featured in this installation were all convicted of violent crimes as children, during a time when the nation’s capital was ravaged by the crack epidemic, poverty, and urban war. All have served more than two decades behind bars, and as adults they are now seeking release and a chance to become contributing members of their families and communities.
Very special thanks to the contributors who shared their stories and their loved ones who generously loaned their personal memories and mementos for display in this installation: