Photographers' Blog

A second chance for women facing prison

Los Angeles, California

By Lucy Nicholson

Victoria Rios, 49, stood up in front of the crowd gathered in the court’s public gallery for her graduation. She listened as Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Tynan, 76, began her story. She had started drinking and smoking when she was eight-years-old. She began taking heroin when she was eleven. She was abused, and went through many abusive relationships. “Prisons become my permanent friend,” she said. “If it wasn’t for this program, I don’t know where I’d be. In prison for life or dead,” she said as tears rolled down her face.

GALLERY: SECOND CHANCE FOR JAILED WOMEN

Judge Tynan walked over to her and wrapped his arms around her in a bear hug. “I could have retired 11 or 12 years ago, but I keep coming back because of people like her,” he said. Tynan has been running the Second Chance Women’s Re-entry Court program since 2007, with Public Defender Nancy Chand, who represents most of the women.

As California struggles with its crowded prison population, the court has pioneered an approach that aims to treat the underlying causes of many women’s crimes – drug addiction, sexual and physical abuse, and mental illness — most commonly post traumatic stress disorder. Around 66% of California prisoners have serious substance abuse problems, but only 2% participate in treatment in prison.

California’s 33 adult prisons were designed to hold about 80,000 inmates and now have about 119,000. The U.S. has more than 2 million people in state and local prisons. It has long had the highest incarceration rate in the world. Women are the fastest growing and least violent prison population. The Second Chance Women’s Re-entry Court program offers women who are facing prison a chance to enter treatment in return for pleading guilty to non-violent crimes.

The women stay at Prototypes residential facility for at least six months of treatment, and then come back for at least a year of outpatient therapy. They keep returning to court to give Judge Tynan updates on their progress. With his brusque humor, he chides them when they slip up, threatens them with jail, and orders them to write 1,000-word essays to think about their actions. “You’ve got to examine your life in front of other women,” he tells one woman. “It’s hard. No more running away. Don’t feel sorry for yourself. What is it that Nike says? ‘Just Do It!’”

Everywhere a Crackland

By Paulo Whitaker

Crack consumption is an epidemic in Brazil. In virtually every corner of the country there are users of the drug, so we decided to produce a photo essay to cover a wide geographic area. Seven photographers in seven cities during 24 hours. The story titled “24-7, Crack in Brazil” is about crack use in public view in 2014 World Cup host cities Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Porto Alegre, Belo Horizonte, Manaus, Salvador da Bahia and Curitiba.

In most of the cities our research showed that users logically confine their consumption to areas with little police presence, such as alleys and deserted streets. In contrast, crack use is so widespread in Sao Paulo that users and dealers gather in the city center with no fear of the police.

Our first concern was safety. Addicts do not normally pose a danger but others involved, such as traffickers and police, will react if they sense our presence. I spent nearly a month in Sao Paulo revisiting the streets of a district known for a long time as “Cracolandia”, or “Crackland,” where I did a multimedia story in 2010. Early this year police routed the addicts and dealers from the two abandoned houses near the bus station where they used to hang out, but since then they have regrouped to other locations.

Rehabilitating each other

By Carlos Garcia Rawlins

The day William decided to change his life was when he woke up on the street soaked in gasoline and engulfed in flames. I met him at the Nosotros Unidos (Us United) Christian shelter in Caracas a year later. William, 39, doesn’t remember how many years he lived on the streets, stealing to feed his drug habit. He also doesn’t know who set him on fire. But he does remember the year he spent in a hospital recovering from the burns.

Surrounded by one of the biggest slums of one of the world’s most violent cities, the walls of Nosotros Unidos have, over the past 15 years, sheltered more than 20,000 people in search of a way out of the self-destructive cycle of drugs. With high ceilings and little light, and rows of bunk beds occupied by people whose worldly possessions fit into a small locker, the center run by a Protestant church offers free rehabilitation to people with problems of drug abuse and indigence.

The main therapy to those who enter the program is religion through prayer.

Douglas is on his third and longest stay in the center. Among the several violent incidents in his street existence was the time someone shot him with a homemade shotgun that used screws and nails as ammunition. His abdomen still retains the deep gouges from the blast. Inside the shelter it’s impossible for him to hide his joy when his mother and 15-year-old daughter come to visit him. He admits they are the only motivation he has to find a way out of the world in which he was immersed.